an open letter from Joey low founder of Israel at heart
Dear Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri, Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Members of Parliament, Citizens of Israel and fellow Jews everywhere.
The Haftorah, the special reading for Yom Kippur was chosen by our Rabbis hundreds of years ago. This is what they specifically wanted us to read on the holiest day of the year, each and every year. It is from the prophet Isaiah 57:14-58:14.
Remind my people they have transgressed, remind the house of Jacob, of their misdeeds, everyday they seek me, eager to learn my ways, as if they were a righteous nation, which hasn’t abandoned justice.
They ask me for the right way, they are eager to be near me, they ask why when we fasted, did you not see us. Because on your fast day, you’re thinking about your business, you are oppressing your workers.
Your fast today, will not make your voice heard on high. Is this the fast I want? A day for people to starve their bodies? do I want you to bow your heads like the reeds? No. This is the fast I want. Unlock the chains of wickedness, untie the knots of servitude, let the Share your bread with the hungry, and welcome the homeless into your home.
When you see the naked, clothe them all people are your kin, do not ignore them. Then you will shine like the dawn, and healing will rise up within you. Your righteousness will vindicate you, the presence of god will guard you safely, then when you call,
Adonai will answer. When you cry out god will say, here I am.
If you banish oppression, scornful finger-pointing and hateful speech. If you offer compassion to the hungry, ” and sustenance to the famished, then your light will shine in the darkness, your gloom will disappear like a fog at noon, Adonai will guide you.
Israel is home to about 38,000 Asylum Seekers. The vast majority of them come from two countries: Eritrea and Sudan. Both are dictatorships that repress their populations and violate their human rights. Killing, raping, torturing and imprisoning goes on daily with no help offered by the outside world. Asylum seekers from those two countries are recognized as refugees in close to all cases throughout the Western world.
Israel however, recognizes far less than one percent of Asylum seekers as refugees and regards the absolute majority as ‘infiltrators.’ Asylum seekers are subjected to arbitrary government policies that make their lives in Israel precarious and hopeless.
Is Israel treating the African Refugees and Asylum Seekers with compassion? Are we recognizing their suffering and treating them with dignity and self-respect? Are we forgetting that we too were refugees and strangers in a foreign land? What is needed is leadership. It is the time of year we should be concerned with applying Jewish values.
I have worked very closely for the past many years with African refugees and Asylum Seekers, and if people would take the time and a little effort, they would see that they are people just like us. To dehumanize them and call them infiltrators and other derogatory names demeans us and the Jewish values we should be upholding. Certainly attention, care love and concern should be shown by us all, to the residents of South Tel Aviv, which sadly has been the place most of the refugees have taken shelter in. This is the governments fault, not the fault of the refugees. The government did not plan ahead and is still unwilling to solve the problem in a constructive way.
There are serious challenges to face, but blaming the refugees is not the correct course of action.
This is precisely what the prophet Isaiah is asking from the Jewish people, so as to have god shine his light upon us. With careful thought and compassion, we can become the light unto other nations, that god commanded us to be. There are over sixty million refugees in the world today and forty thousand in Israel. With leadership, honesty, love and humility, we can make the refugees in Israel safe until the time comes when they can return to their home countries and when they do, they will remember that we treated them as god instructed us to.
Let me be perfectly clear.
I am not suggesting Israel open up its borders to new asylum seekers or refugees, Israeli borders are now sealed, but I am saying treat those that are already there with compassion and understanding for the difficult circumstances they find themselves in. Develop a legal way for them to stay until they are able to return to their homes in safety.
A few examples of what Israel could do and should do are:
Setting up clear guidelines for refugee status, understanding that Israel is already a signatory to Geneva conventions which state procedures that deals with people seeking asylum from war ravaged countries.
Asylum seekers who graduate from Israeli high schools, who are not allowed to join the army, but feel the strong desire to perform community/national service within Israel, should be allowed to do so.
Allowing them to work so they can afford their rent and living expenses so they can live with their families in dignity. Current policies make it nearly impossible for them to be hired by legitimate Israeli businesses who could use their talents. Unfair taxes are charged to African Refugees who do find work at hotels or restaurants and additional taxes are charged to their employers to discourage employers from hiring refugees. Government policies also make it difficult for refugees to access basic health services and higher education.
These are some easy places to start with. But leadership and resolving this problem with Jewish values is what’s needed and sadly missing today.
Founder of Israel at Heart
Click here for the hebrew version