Welcome the Stranger

December 03, 2015
By Avi Rose

In this KQED Perspective, Executive Director Avi Rose says the Syrian refugee crisis is a call to understand who the refugees are and act in the best of faith traditions.

Over the past ten years of working to resettle refugees fleeing persecution due to their religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, I’ve learned a few things.
First, it is very hard to leave everyone and everything you know to start your life over in a new country. No one does this lightly. Refugees leave their homes because they are fleeing for their lives. 
Second, if you are a person with bad intent wanting to enter the United States, the last thing you’d do is come as a refugee. Refugees are repeatedly screened, interviewed, and vetted in at least a dozen different ways, often for a period of two years, before being permitted entry into the country. The bad guys do not come here through the refugee program.
Third, most religions and cultures instruct us to welcome the stranger. In my own Jewish tradition, the Torah tells me thirty-six times and reminds me that I, too, was once a stranger in a strange land. Here’s what it doesn’t say, “Welcome the stranger, but only if she looks like you.” It doesn’t say, “Welcome the stranger, but only if he worships like you.” It doesn’t even say, “Welcome the stranger, but only if she doesn’t make you uncomfortable.” It simply says, “Welcome the stranger,” with no asterisk or footnote. 
In the wake of the recent attacks in Beirut, Paris, and elsewhere, people are understandably frightened. But now is the time for us to act on the best of our values, not the worst of our fears. We can volunteer our time. We can donate our money. We can collect household goods for new Americans who arrive with next to nothing. We can open our hearts and homes, fostering an atmosphere of welcome and support. We can stand up for sensible and compassionate public policies. This is a defining moment for us as individuals and as a country. Let’s take it as an opportunity to be our best selves. 
Let’s welcome the stranger.
With a Perspective, this is Avi Rose.
Avi Rose is the Executive Director of Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay.