The establishment of the state of Israel fundamentally changed the situation of the Jew in the world, who we had been and who we would become. For most of the past 3000 years Jews lived in exile, subject to the rule of others, without national sovereignty and power of our own, without the enormous challenges that come with ruling a nation.
Today, Syrian refugees are desperate to find safe harbor outside of their tortured land, and many want to come to Israel for asylum.
Israel has been tested already over the last number of years about how to accommodate 50,000 Eritrean and Sudanese Refugees who had crossed the border into Israel from Africa seeking asylum from some of the worst dictators in the world.
Every nation has the right and duty to protect its borders. No nation as small as Israel can be expected to be the home for every suffering human being. However, as we Jews know only too well what it means to flee persecution and violence, we might expect that the government of the state of Israel, of all nations given our most recent history of being a hunted people, would have in place a compassionate and reasonable policy to welcome refugees and asylum seekers that could enable these stateless people to live with dignity until conditions in their nations of origin change and they can go home without fear.
Rabbi Dow Marmur put the challenge succinctly this week as he reflected upon a new wave of asylum seekers from Syria seeking refuge in Israel:
“We Jews found it easy to preach morality when we had no power to put it into practice. Now with a state of our own and the paramount need to protect it, national interests seem to take precedence. The challenge of contemporary Israel is how to live up to the lofty teachings of Judaism while responding to the challenges of a modern democratic sovereign state surrounded by hostile forces.”