Thousands of American Jews were shocked and horrified to hear of the riots aimed at African refugees and migrants in South Tel Aviv a few weeks ago. A few hundred Israelis, incited by lashon hara, evil speech, marched through immigrant neighborhoods, chanting racist slogans, smashing stores and even physically attacking innocents.
It goes without saying that these actions are unequivocally immoral, anti-Jewish, anti-Torah, and totally wrong. Millions of American Jews share this sentiment, yet the response of the American Jewish community has mostly been embarrassment, some words of reproach, and quiet handwringing. It's time to do more. It's time to give.
The question of how to deal with a rapid influx of thousands of legitimate asylum seekers fleeing genocide and ethnic violence, mixed with others who are not fleeing persecution but instead enter illegally while looking for work, is not easily answered. And let's be sure, the plight of these migrants is not Israel's fault. It is the fault of the corrupt and immoral dictators they are fleeing. And citizens of many countries along the way from Sudan and Eritrea to Israel have kidnapped, raped, shot and killed these immigrants.
But that does not absolve the State of Israel and the Jewish people of perhaps the most Jewish responsibility: the responsibility to care for the vulnerable in our midst. As the medieval commentator writes in his classic explanation of the 613 mitzvot, the Sefer Hachinuch on the mitzvah to love the stranger:
"We learn from this commandment to take pity on any person who is in a town or city that is not his native ground and site of the family of his ancestors. Let us not abuse him in any way, finding him alone, with those who would help him far away... The Torah demands us to have compassion on anyone who needs help."
The Israeli government has not found a way to address this problem in accordance with the Torah's teaching. Years of non-policy allowed the situation to grow and fester, with tens of thousands of immigrants living in limbo, not granted refugee status or work papers, or humanely sent to a safe place. As signers of the 1951/1967 UN Convention relating to refugees, Israel has a legal obligation to deal with this matter.
However, every day several organizations and hundreds of volunteers are working on the issue, stepping in where the government has been inactive, and providing safety, health care, refugee support, skills, food and more. Today, you can join in this effort.
If you believe in the Torah's value of loving and treating the stranger with kindness, compassion and decency, then join these organizations, today, by giving money to one of these groups. Whether it's five, five hundred, or five thousand dollars, this is the best way to make a difference for those of us in north America who share the Jewish value of rachamim, compassion.
I recently spent some time in Israel and met with some of the people involved, including refugees, doctors, activists and others. Based on my conversations and research, these are the organizations which are making a difference on the ground and which could really use your support. If I missed any, please contact me with the name, a short description and I will add them to the list. Find the organization that is addressing this problem in a way that speaks the most to you and make a meaningful donation. Now. The situation is urgent and they need your support.
Basic Social Services
The African Refugee Development Center seeks to ensure access to basic social services, and to facilitate refugee and asylum seeker integration, self-sufficiency and ownership in matters affecting their lives. The ARDC advocates for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and for a humane and fair Israeli asylum policy. It divides its work between individual counseling, humanitarian aid, education, community development, awareness raising and policy initiatives. Learn more here.
Legal Representation and Systemic Justice
The Hotline for Migrant Workers ((HMW), established in 1998, is a non-partisan, not for profit organization, dedicated to promoting the rights of undocumented migrant workers and refugees. Their staff and volunteers provide refugees and workers with humanitarian aid and para-legal representation while working to secure their release. Their legal department files precedent-setting suits on topics such as detention conditions, illegal detention, deportation to Egypt, judicial review and more. Learn more here.
ASSAF's mission is to protect those entering Israel in search of asylum, strengthening their coping mechanisms so that they can face the daily economic, social, legal and emotional challenges facing them while facilitating their dignified existence. Since its inception, ASSAF has assisted hundreds of at-risk refugee individuals, women, children, unaccompanied minors and families seeking refuge and asylum in Israel in addition to facilitating community autonomy and empowerment, advocacy and tackling policy change. Learn more here.
Protecting Pregnant Mothers
"Hagar and Miriam" is a project that was set up for African asylum seeker and refugee women in Israel who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. The project allows these women to cope with their pregnancy and transition to motherhood in light of the difficulties of moving to a foreign country where they don't know the local language and where they have to find a way to support themselves while they acclimatize to the local culture. Learn more here.
Thanks to the holy work of these Israeli non-profits, we have the opportunity to fulfill our obligation to love the stranger and make a more merciful and just world.