We are currently in the process of celebrating Sukkot, the Jewish chag which simultaneously serves to celebrate and give thanks for a bountiful harvest “mmm wheat” the ancient Hebrews would declare; and also to commemorate our time, 40 years to be precise, of wandering the desert and living in temporary sukkot (booths or dwellings). Traditionally, this has always been one of the most joyous occasions on the Jewish calendar, we shake lulavs and etrogs to our hearts content, we eat pomegranate seeds, we sit in our lovely sukkot; and celebrate that after those hard 40 years, we were granted our salvation; altogether, a great time is had by all.
However this year, perhaps more than other years, commemorating our own time “meandering” in the wilderness, stateless; with nowhere to go is particularly poignant; in a not so joyous way. Currently we are witnessing the largest global refugee crisis in history; in 2014 the number of global refugees exceeded 50 million for the first time since the Second World War. Many of those refugees are fleeing the horrifying scenes broadcast globally from Syria, stuck between the rock of the brutal Assad regime and the hard place of the genocidal fanatics of the Islamic State. There are a number of sources in Jewish tradition which lay out our responsibilities to these people, most poignant of these is surely:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
I don’t feel it necessary, in this blog, to remind the Jewish world of all the other experiences we’ve had as strangers, those experiences have become a central theme of the Jewish story. We know them, because not so long ago, it was our great-grandparents and grandparents, arriving on the shores of Britain from Russia, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, France, the list goes on.
Now in fairness, the Jewish response to this crisis has been admirable, we’ve seen the youth movement world mobilise, arranging donation drives, helping sort donations, sending volunteering missions to Calais, in many ways, this has been a fine example of empowered youth taking action when necessary. However, like in all struggles, there is still work to do.
We can also not forget those asylum seekers currently in detention in the UK, our government is currently the only one in Europe to still have no time limit on detention. In Israel for example, *thanks to the Supreme Court*, asylum seekers being held in the Holot detention centre can only be held there for a maximum of one year. In the UK, those being held in Yarls Wood “Immigration Removal Centre” (yes that’s actually what they call it) can be held indefinitely.
So when you’re next sat in your Sukkah, thinking about our time spent wandering in the desert, and how we were eventually granted our salvation, please take some time to think about those still wandering, still stateless, still oppressed and still, ultimately, strangers.