Hachnasat Orchim: What a Jewish Value Can Teach Us About the Syrian Refugee Crisis

GEVGELIJA, MACEDONIA - NOVEMBER 19: Syrian refugees wait at the refugee camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia on November 19, 2015. (P
GEVGELIJA, MACEDONIA - NOVEMBER 19: Syrian refugees wait at the refugee camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia on November 19, 2015. (Photo by Besar Ademi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

On Monday, President Obama announced that the United States should welcome Syrian refugees. As with most of the President's public statements, conservatives everywhere were outraged. Republican governors (and yes, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan) all across the country pledged to protect their borders from "those refugees" as Texas Governor Greg Abbott so kindly stated.

I've learned in my years of education the important concept of not standing idly by. In my first couple months of college, I learned this concept once more in workshops about sexual assault, alcohol abuse, and racial and cultural tensions.

The attack in Paris sent waves of shock throughout the world. How could such atrocities happen in the city known for its love and romance? It also for many reaffirmed the fear of terrorism that appears so prevalent in our world. It led to another instance of anti-Muslim prejudice and more Muslim bashing on social media. Fortunately, I always see images such as this one as well, to remind us of our society's tremendous stereotyping.

Because one of the perpetrators of the attack held a Syrian passport, it must mean that all fearful Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country must be assassins as well right? The infamous Ku Klux Klan identifies as Protestant so that must mean that your cute and elderly next door neighbors who hang up the most wonderful Christmas lights must be secretly hiding their KKK membership. It seems illogical. Just the thought of it makes me cringe (as it should you, as well).

Yet, we do this overgeneralizing for American Muslims! Even moderate Republican governor such as good ol' Charlie Baker stated that he would close his state's borders. Though in some optimistic news he did say for "right now." So there could be hope. Maybe.

As a Jew, the grandchild and great-grand child of immigrants, and a student of American History, I know our country's historical struggles with immigration. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the immigration quotas of the 1920's to the turning away of the St. Louis -- a ship filled with Jews escaping persecution from Germany who were turned away by President Roosevelt in 1939, the federal government has not exactly welcomed Jewish immigrants.

In Judaism, we learn the value of "Hachnasat Orchim" which translates to the welcoming of guests. We even have our own holiday to celebrate this value: Sukkot! Many Jewish commentators believe this value stems from the Bible, in the passage where Abraham welcomes Angels wandering in the desert into his home. They then give him the important and surprising news that he and Sara will be parents.

Because of my religious beliefs, it is my mission to advocate for the Syrian refugees. As soon as I heard that states chose to not allow in Syrian Refugees, or rather not allow the Muslim refugees (shout out to Mr. Bush for that great comment) I thought back to the early 20th century. Jews struggled to gain access in this country and once they arrived in the states faced persecution because of their religion. Thankfully, Jews found assistance and many have achieved great success in later generations. In the '30's and '40's however, while American Jews pleaded to their government for help during the Holocaust, Roosevelt chose to continue the policies of former president Hoover and excluded the Jews from entering unless they had a guaranteed job. Americans themselves also exhibit similar feelings towards Syrians as they exhibited towards Jews in this same era.

President Obama urged the country to accept 10,000 immigrants while other European countries have accepted or will accept hundreds of thousands. We take on less refugees while the rest of the world accepts more and the GOP (and yes, Maggie Hassan) refuse to allow a tenth as many into our country.

I must fulfill the value of Hachnasat Orchim because it is a core Mitzvah of Judaism, and we as Americans must embrace the Syrians in order to be decent American citizens. Let us not stand idly by this time around.

One last factoid from the Economist: "750,000 have been resettled in America since 9/11. Not one has been arrested on domestic terrorism charges."

As poet Emma Lazarus beautifully wrote many years ago, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."