OPINION: Memory of what it means to be ‘other’ is implanted in Jewish genes

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OPINION: Memory of what it means to be ‘other’ is implanted in Jewish genes

Rabbi Elchonon Feldman reflects on his community's remarkable collection for Afghan refugees last week, and why so many identify with the plight of those in need

Black bags with donated items were piled high
Black bags with donated items were piled high

Our Afghan refugee appeal has taught me that giving is truly all about people.

There have been many adjectives used to describe the phenomenon that the Bushey United Synagogue community witnessed over the last few days: overwhelming, inspiring and amazing.

These sentiments refer not just to the sheer volume of high quality goods collected. The words came from individuals making a personal donation, from people who had arranged collections among their friends and neighbours and from those who had collected items at their place of worship, from across the faith spectrum.

Rabbi Elchonon Feldman

Despite the horrific images coming from Afghanistan, individuals can make an impact. People, with their sense of empathy, their sense of love, can spread light at a time of darkness.

The Torah portion of Ki Teitze which I read for the community just this past Shabbat informs us that we must care for the stranger, the orphan and the widow in our midst. The Torah says clearly why: you must remember that you too were once a stranger in the land of Egypt. We too were once in need of assistance. And, God says, I redeemed you from there and it’s for that very reason that I command you to do these things today.

The memory of what it means to be ‘other’, to be a minority, to be in need, is implanted within the Jewish genetic code, within our souls. This inspires us to be the best possible version of ourselves and drives us to reach out to those who are in need of help.

It has been a privilege playing a small role in this response. But more importantly it’s been a privilege to work alongside so many people who have demonstrated this beautiful display of love for the ‘other’.

  • Rabbi Elchonon Feldman is the Senior Rabbi of Bushey United Synagogue

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