In March our 11th and 12th graders went to Washington DC to participate in the L'taken Social Justice Seminar, a program by the Religious Action Center that empowers teens to learn about issues that they care about and then advocate to their representatives and senators on the Hill. A few our teens wrote this speech below about the issue of refugee resettlement and humanitarian aid, which they presented at representative Joseph Kennedy III's office.
Hello, my name is Evan, and this is Zach Oshins, Jake Wolfson, and Natalie Harder, and we’re from Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Mass, led by Rabbi Joel Sisenwine. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us today. We are here in Washington with hundreds of other teens to participate in the L’taken seminar, a four-day program focusing on Jewish values in politics. We come here today, representing the Religious Action Center to add our Jewish viewpoint on the critical issue of assisting the Syrian refugees who currently face brutal repression and no place to call their own. It is not only resided in the Jewish tradition to do everything in our power to help refugees, but an American tradition rooted in the history of the country. With each passing day, the Syrian refugees are at a greater risk of losing their lives and those of loved ones from caring mothers, working fathers, loyal brothers and loving sisters, and of course friends and neighbors that tie the knot of community. The stories of past American immigrants who came here for a better future proves that by providing shelter for refugees, refugees provide back to the benefit of this country.
America is a nation founded by refugees. We are a country that is a beacon of hope for many refugees and immigrants, which is where the phrase the American dream comes from. A big stereotype of Syrians, and Muslims in general, is that all of them are terrorists. This characterization could not be more wrong, as these refugees are fleeing terrorism and violence themselves. In Syria, over half of the original population has been forced to flee leaving 11 million refugees without a home. It is a very unfair and wrong stereotype that halts the intake of possible innovators to not only American society but the world. Albert Einstein created the theory of relativity and the famous equation E=mc2, but was also a German Jew who sought refuge in America when Hitler came to power. Right now there are 2.5 million Syrian refugees who are of schooling age and by bringing them here we give them the opportunity to succeed just as we did for Einstein. By bringing in these children, we give them the chance to help our nation and the world advance.
We all know the age-old story of Cain killing his brother Abel. After Cain set upon his brother God asked about his brother’s whereabouts, well-knowing what had just taken place. Abel responds with the infamous phrase, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” In saying, “I do not know,” Cain is not only trying deceiving God, but also he is trying to deceive himself. As human beings, we live through the actions we have taken and the actions we have witnessed. It is a waste of time to lie to oneself because someone is always watching, whether it be God or just a stranger you did not notice, people’s choices do not go unwitnessed.
The fact that Cain even needs to asks the question “am I my brother’s keeper” is problematic. It is problematic because this tells us that Cain has no understanding of the idea unity. As time goes on and America’s role in the Global community grows, we cannot ask the same question Cain asks. We must understand that it is our duty as human beings to stand hand in hand and work to create a sense of global unity. If we ignore our brothers and sisters in Syria we are overlooking a serious problem in our global community. We must pray for those who cannot pray for peace, fight for those who cannot fight for freedom, and save those who cannot save themselves.
As an American Jew, it is extraordinarily important to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis in the most delicate and thoughtful way possible. If someone is to ask, “how can we deal with the refugee crisis,” we as both Americans and Jews, cannot say “I do not know” because then we are no better than Cain. We cannot stand idly by and allow innocent people to be killed. We must protect our brother, for we have seen our own people during the Holocaust be rejected from safety and subsequently murdered for lack of a haven.
Hirsch Altman was 14 years old when he was forced out of his home town of Brzezany, Poland. After witnessing the murder of his three older sisters and both of his parents, the Soviet occupation, and Nazi persecution and brutality, Hirsch fled, leaving behind his life as he knew it. He spent four years as a displaced person, living an inhuman life barely holding onto his existence, let alone his dignity. Finally after years of living in constant fear and being completely alone, he was allowed to enter the United States of America to live with his uncle in Connecticut. Once in the United States, Hirsch worked relentlessly to create a better life for himself, eventually becoming a successful dentist, marrying the love of his life, a young woman named Laura, and having three children and four grandchildren, one of which I am honored and lucky enough to be. Stories like my grandfather’s are unfortunately very familiar to refugees today. In fact, there are more global refugees today than there were during World War II when my grandfather was in their shoes. I am only here right now because the United States opened it’s gates and it’s hearts to threatened and frightened refugees, like my grandfather. Seventy years from now, I hope that with your help the grandchildren of the current refugees will tell similar stories to the one I am able to tell today.
On behalf of The Religious Actions Center for Reform Judaism, Jake, Natalie, Zach and I would like to thank you for your past support for refugees. We ask that you continue supporting refugees by opposing limitations on refugee resettlement, supporting funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and supporting increased humanitarian aid to Syria. Thank you for your time!
Inspired by our teens and want to make a difference? You can do any of these three things to help repair the world:
1.You can call your representative right now to and ask them to support refugee resettlement and humanitarian aid! All you have to do is call the Congress Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
2. Want to go on a similar experience? Talk to Sandy Aronson about the Consultation on Conscience, the Religious Action Center's flagship social justice conference!
3. You can Donate to our Youth Engagement Fund to support teens who want to turn their passions into action!