United States responsibility toward refugees

An appeal to action by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine

Please call your Senators to tell them you Welcome Syrian Refugees and urge them to vote “NO” if a bill comes to the Senate for a vote to make it more stringent to accept refugees from Syria and Iraq to the US.  You can call the Capitol Switchboard on Monday or Tuesday  at 202 224-3121. If you do not know the names of your two senators, just give the Capitol operator your state and you will be connected. You can also call their state offices by googling them to get the phone number.

 Refugees coming to the US are already subject to lengthy, stringent clearance requirements.  In the busyness of preparing for the holidays, let us not forget these are people who have lost everything.  Imagine being bombed  and having no place to go, and one after another country saying “we do not want you.”  It is winter, it is cold, and many are sleeping outside, waiting at the borders of several European countries. The countries that are doing the bombing – US, Russia, France, including the coalition of the willing who started it all with the Iraq war –  have a responsibility to take in the refugees. We broke it, we own it, now we need to take care of the people whose lives have been destroyed by the wars we helped start (no, not just us, but also us–and we live in the wealthiest country in the world and can afford to take in a significant number of the homeless).  And “no,” these refugees do not present a danger to the general public–we already have careful poicies in place to ensure that we would not be accpeting people who are ISIS operatives intent on hurting us.

I never understood how the U.S. could have shut its doors to Jews attempting to flee Nazi Germany. I thought that after the Holocaust every American would understand the horrendous consequences of turning our backs on those who were seeking refuge. I’m glad that the Holocaust museum and many of the institutions of Jewish life have called for a receptive policy. Yet the U.S. Congress, in a vote that included almost all Republicans and some 50 plus Democrats, instead of voting to bring at least a million of the refugees to the U.S., has voted to make it harder for any of the millions of refugees to come here. A wave of fear has spread rapidly across the U.S. fostered in part by xenophobic and opportunistic politicians and a fear-oriented media (as they say in the mainstream media: “if it bleeds, it leads” on the news if we dare call it news anymore rather than just “entertainment”).  Please read the statement of one such refugee below, and then call your U.S. Senator to urge them to reject the House measure and to use their access to media and communities in their own state to provide leadership on this issue and to educate their consituents to a generous and open-hearted welcoming of the refugees.  Of course, we at Tikkun have been calling for a new approach to foreign policy for the past few decades–because we know that a Strategy of Generosity, manifested in a Global Marshall Plan www.tikkun.org/gmp, is a far more effective path than the Strategy of Domination and “power over” that has so far guided every U.S. Administration including the Obama Administration for the past 30 plus years. So now we see what happens when people dismiss “generosity” as utopian and instead embrace the “be realistic” mantra that leads so many good people to support militaristic policies. Now the best we can do is to open the gates of our country to some of the people who have been hurt by the policies we in the West have followed. The least we can do is take care of some of these refugees!

–Rabbi Michael Lerner    rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

The words of a refugee

You’ are 29 years old with a wife, two children and a job. You have enough money, and can afford a few nice things, and you live in a small house in the city.

Suddenly the political situation in your country changes and a few months later soldiers are gathered in front of your house. And in front of your neighbours’ houses.

They say that if you don’t fight for them, they will shoot you.
Your neighbour refuses.

One shot. That’s it.

You overhear one of the soldiers telling your wife to spread her legs.
Somehow you get rid of the soldiers and spend the night deep in thought.

Suddenly you hear an explosion. Your house no longer has a living room.

You run outside and see that the whole street is destroyed.

Nothing is left standing.

You take your family back into the house, and then you run to your parents’ house.

It is no longer there. Nor are your parents.

You look around and find an arm with your Mother’s ring on its finger. You can’t find any other sign of your parents.

You look around and find an arm with your Mother’s ring on its finger. You can’t find any other sign of your parents.


“But asylum seekers have so many luxury goods! Smartphones, and designer clothes!”


You immediately forget it. You rush home, and tell your wife to get the children dressed. You grab a small bag, because anything bigger will be impossible to carry for a long time, and in it you pack essentials. Only 2 pieces of clothing each can fit in the bag.

What do you take?

You will probably never see your home country again.
Not your family, not your neighbours, your workmates…

But how can you stay in contact?

You hastily throw your smartphone and the charger in the bag.

Along with the few clothes, some bread and your small daughters favourite teddy.


“They can easily afford to get away. They aren’t poor!”


Because you could see the emergency coming, you have already scraped all your money together.

You managed to save some money because of your well paid job.

The kind people smuggler in the neighbourhood charges 5,000 euros per person.

You have 15,000 euros. With a bit of luck, you’ll all be able to go. If not, you will have to let your wife go.

You love her and pray that you the smugglers will take you all.

By now you are totally wiped out and have nothing else. Just your family and the bag.

The journey to the border takes two weeks on foot.

You are hungry and for the last week have barely eaten. You are weak, as is your wife. But at least the children have enough.

They have cried for the whole 2 weeks.

Half the time you have to carry your younger daughter. She is only 21 months old.

A further 2 weeks and you arrive at the sea.

In the middle of the night you’re loaded onto a ship with other refugees.

You are lucky: your whole family can travel.

The ship is so full that it threatens to capsize. You pray that you don’t drown.

The people around you are crying and screaming.

A few small children have died of thirst.

The smugglers throw them overboard.

Your wife sits, vacantly, in a corner. She hasn’t had anything to drink for 2 days.

When the coast is in sight, you are loaded onto small boats.

Your wife and the younger child are on one, you and your older child are on another.

You are warned to stay silent so that nobody knows you’re there.
Your older daughter understands.

But your younger one in the other boat doesn’t. She doesn’t stop crying.

The other refugees are getting nervous. They demand that your wife keeps the child quiet.

She doesn’t manage it.

One of the men grabs your daughter, rips her away from your wife and throws her overboard.

You jump in after her, but you can’t find her again.

Never again.

In 3 months she would have turned 2 years old.

Isn’t that enough for you? They still have it too good here and have everything handed to them on a plate?

You don’t know how you, your wife and your older daughter manage to get to the country that takes you in.

It’s as though everything is all foggy. Your wife hasn’t spoken a word since your daughter died. 

Your older daughter hasn’t let go of her sister’s teddy and is totally apathetic.

But you have to keep going. You are just about to arrive at the emergency accommodation.

It is 10pm. A man whose language you don’t understand takes you to a hall with camp beds. There are 500 beds all very close together.

In the hall it’s stuffy and loud.

You try to get your bearings. To understand what the people there want from you.

But in reality you can barely stand up. You nearly wish that they had shot you.

Instead you unpack your meagre possessions:

Two items of clothing each and your smartphone.

Then you spend your first night in a safe country.

The next morning you’re given some clothes.

Among the donated clothes are even branded ‘label’ clothes. And a toy for your daughter.

You are given 140 euros. For the whole month.


“They’re safe here. Therefore they should be happy!”


Outside in the yard, dressed in your new clothes, you hold your smartphone high in the air and hope to have some reception.

You need to know if anyone from your city is still alive.

Then a ‘concerned citizen‘ comes by and abuses you.

You don’t know why. You don’t understand “Go back to your own country!”

You understand some things like “smartphone” and “handed everything on a plate.”

Somebody translates it for you.


And now tell me how you feel and what you own?

The answer to both parts of that is “Nothing.”

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