A Jewish mandate to act: 60 million refugees around the world

World Refugee Day is tomorrow (June 20). In recognition, HIAS has released this video that calls on Jews to remember their history as refugees and to help those still displaced. The video is powerful and compelling.

In particular, I am struck by two connected through lines that position HIAS within a history of Jewish displacement and the contemporary refugee crisis:

(1) The connection between Jewish values and the work of rescuing and resettling refugees around the world today. Their mission is no longer to save Jews, but they are still informed by their roots as a Jewish organization. As they define their goals:

Guided by Jewish values and experience, HIAS is working to address the global refugee crisis.

(2) That the organization chose to tell the history of Jewish displacement as part of a long history of displacement is inspiring. They empower Jews to act today not because Jews are in danger, but because we were once refugees and HIAS was there. In telling this connected history, the video jumps from Nazi concentration camps to the Jewish exile in North Africa to Darfur and Refugee Camps across the world. In each case, HIAS was there:

We were the ones at the docks…and we are still at the docks, in the deserts, and in the cities and camps and lands where people no longer have a home in their homeland.

The argument that Jews should care because it is a Jewish mandate is powerful and speaks beyond World Refugee Day – it speaks to how Jewish values can be part of political concerns that are not just about Israel or just about antisemitism.

This history is at the heart of the Memories/Motifs project and I am proud to be a supporter of HIAS today.


Reposted from Memories/Motifs in honor of World Refugee Day

“A Dystopian Document Thriller”

A new video game, Papers, Please, has been released seemingly to test the value of Holocaust and genocide education. The game invites users to the communist state of Arstotzka where they become immigration inspectors, deciding the fate of people trying to enter from neighboring states. According to the game’s website “smugglers, spies, and terrorists” are among those trying to enter and it is your job to weed them out. Players are trained according to the rules of the state to filter through the paperwork and fingerprints to make what are constructed as life or death decisions.

I have to admit that I have not yet played the game, but I’ve been conflicted about wanting to play, about what playing might mean, and about how I might act as an immigration inspector. And, this, to me, seems to be the point. A Tablet Magazine review calls attention to the game’s Arendt-ian construct, asking users to engage in the “banality of evil.” And here is the great ambition of the game: can desk workers, paper pushers, stamp givers, be the perpetrators of evil? Through game play, Papers, Please poses compelling questions about culpability, responsibility, and “following orders.”

Before even playing, I sense that I will want to do a good job at the game. I’ll want to read through the documents presented by each hopeful immigrant and find mistakes or red flags. But, I will also be thinking about Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the students that I have encouraged to think about the consequences of working within an evil system. For nearly a decade, I have taught students about the Holocaust and Genocide and pushed them to evaluate the lived experiences of people in these circumstances. I’ve asked them to think about how simple acts, when performed in the context of mass violence, can have great consequences. And, I’ve read Arendt with them as they grapple with the idea that evil can be ordinary, commonplace, banal.

So, I’m conflicted before even playing the game, because I want to believe that when I play, and when my students play, that we will think about the consequences of stamping or not stamping these documents. And that we will not succumb to the impulse to do better, follow the directions, and advance through the game.