There is a famous Talmudic story in which Rabbi Hillel tells a young man, all while standing on one foot, that the Torah can be summarized as the golden rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated. We are reminded that, regardless of the persecution and discrimination the Jewish people face, we are to treat others with dignity and respect. This applies to other Jews in our community as well as to the stranger.
The U.S. is currently in the middle of an ugly debate around strangers — our immigrant community. As people from all corners of the world flock to the U.S., it is our job to lead the way in welcoming them. Immigrants are here to seek opportunities for success, quality education, refuge from war-torn countries and countless other reasons, not dissimilar to many of our ancestors.
Jews, from biblical times to Babylon to Ancient Rome to Nazi Germany and even in present-day America, know what it’s like to be “othered” rather than welcomed. Our Jewish values remind us to treat current immigrants with the dignity that we wish we had been shown throughout history. When other nations deemed Jews as “less than” or “undesirable,” we would not have wished to be deported or separated from our family in cages. So why would a modern and democratic nation do the same to others?
The current political discussion around immigrants is despicable — it’s not democratic and certainly not aligned with our Jewish values. To be so scared of those who speak or pray or dress differently than us that our government’s solution is to build walls and cages is a way to run a zoo, not a country.
In a few weeks, we will celebrate Purim. This is the classic Jewish story of a man in power trying to exterminate the Jews because we were seen as different and thus a threat. In the Purim story, when Esther tells King Achashverosh that the king’s top advisor is trying to kill her and her people, his response is not to build cages and walls. That would have been cowardly, undemocratic and not a viable solution. Instead, he confronted his advisor and stood up for oppressed people.
But we don’t have to feel defeated. We can be a part of the solution.
On a small scale, treat your neighbors with kindness and welcome others with open arms. Support immigrant-owned businesses, befriend those in your community who may look or speak differently than you, consume books and movies about other cultures.
On a larger level, speak out against systemic oppression. Be aware that our country is treating immigrants on a frighteningly similar scale that we were treated in Germany in the early 1940s. Think back to every time a Holocaust survivor spoke to your Hebrew school class and you wondered, “What would I have done?”
Now is the time to act instead of wonder. pjc
Max Weisman is a senior associate at Ceisler Media who lives in Philadelphia.