A Wandering People
Today's global migrants, like our peripatetic forebears, are suspended in the precarious place between a difficult past and a hopeful future.
Today’s global migrants, like my peripatetic forebears, are suspended in the precarious place between a difficult past and a hopeful future--a future that might just hinge on proving their claims to belonging, on providing the proper declarations of pedigree for the proper tribe.
For those undocumented migrants around the globe--who are sometimes precluded from ever attaining legal residency because of their ethnicity or origin--the hopeful future vanishes if they cannot secure the proper papers. This is the stark, unstable reality for the hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrants in Thailand, and Haitians in the Dominican Republic; the millions of Zimbabweans in South Africa; and of course, the many scores of different peoples from around the world in the United States.
Massive migration has been called “one of the defining global issues of the early 21st century.” But the Jewish community has been weaving the legacy of forced and chosen migrations into our shared psyche for several millennia. When we turn to the challenges attendant to today’s migrations--exploitation, isolation, resource distribution--we should thus recognize a likeness in the millions of global migrants who leave home to find better--or simply possible--lives. As two men swore in Tel Aviv, in 1957: “We know from personal knowledge these facts.”
Indeed, this recognition is the animating force of the divine charge to the nation that God repeatedly uprooted: “Do not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of a stranger; you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).” The strangeness of soul that is born of dislocation is an integral part of our existential legacy: The empathy forged from it should be a defining quality of our moral one.
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