A Thanksgiving Prayer for the Refugees

hiasAs we Americans head into our national holiday of giving thanks, I take note of the troubles of our brethren abroad. So many are without sufficient food, clean water, and a safe place to sleep. Many more fear for their lives as well as Europeans who are reeling from the massacre in Paris on Friday the 13th.

Fear brings its companion, hysteria. Hysteria breeds irrational behavior, and the rants of public officials on protecting our people, by limiting the freedom of those others they consider a high risk to public safety, are distressing. This country has been down this road before, especially during World War II, with the arrests and incarceration of citizens of enemy descent (see Jan J. Russell’s The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II).

In the Bible, there is the curious incident of the body found at the edge of the city limits (Deuteronomy, 21:1-8), upon which the elders of the city are to atone publicly with a sin offering. The sages say that this is to instill communal responsibility for the travesty that a stranger should die unwitnessed and unclaimed. I was troubled by this interpretation, feeling overwhelmed by the awesome task. With time and reflection, I now better understand that actions — both individual and institutional– impact the integration of people within society.

How many times have we read about the individual who was bullied and ignored, who later exploded in anger and vengeance? Would that we could turn back the clock, so that someone does reach out to this person. Could we better allocate our mental health resources to serve more people? What if gun sales were better controlled? Why not try to reach out to our new neighbor, so that we could see each other as human beings?

How hard do we try to protect people from persecution for their ethnicity? The French and the Belgians are now dealing with the legacy of decades of neglect and isolation of their Muslim aliens, who were never adopted into their national identity. I think the U.S. is a little better in integrating our immigrants, in part because of our pride in our heritage as a nation of immigrants.

Let us not turn our backs on the plight of the Syrian refugees, who are fleeing from the same kind of horror that Europeans are now experiencing through the evil actions of ISIL. They need a home where they will be welcomed, where their young will become integrated into our society, and where they will adopt American values. This is my prayer for them. Throughout our history, we have turned others of “dubious” backgrounds into loyal, law-abiding citizens and we should continue to do so with the Syrians. Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is a letter from a former Iraqi Kurd (obtained from HIAS-PA):

My name is Ali and I served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for three years. In 2013, I came to Tennessee as a refugee after two years of vetting by the U.S. State Department.

I knew I had to leave Iraq in 2009 when a friend of mine, another interpreter, took a vacation in Sinjar. While he was at home, his car was blown up, killing him and two of his family members. If I stayed long after the Army left Iraq, I would have been killed too. In 2011, I returned home and began the refugee application process.

Over two years, my brothers, my wife, and my children traveled several times to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for screening. As a Kurd traveling to Baghdad, it was a dangerous for us. The airport, the hotel, and each of the checkpoints on the way to the embassy were all very dangerous. There were many interviews, tests, medical screenings, and background and security checks. They talked to family, friends, and people who employed us previously. And they did it repeatedly over two years. And then finally, on October 23rd 2013, we were approved.

Like my family, the refugees you see on the news are leaving because it is their only chance at a better life. They leave their homes, live in a tent or on the street … maybe they find a camp. Aid and international refugee programs are the difference between life and death.

As I watch the news from my home in Tennessee, I don’t understand politicians who are trying to stop people fleeing from war from coming to the United States.

I don’t understand why they’d try to prevent Kurds, especially, from coming to America. Over twelve years in Iraq, not one American soldier was killed by a Kurd. These are good people coming from over there. The little boy who washed up on the shore in Greece, his name was Aylan and he was a Kurd who fled the violence in Syria with his family.

The people fighting ISIS alongside Americans last week in Sinjar are Kurds. They are trying to escape ISIS and they need America’s help right now.

Thank you for reading my story.

HIAS-EcuadorResponse From an Anonymous Persian Jew:

Dear Hannah,

I beg to differ. This issue is not one that one can apply one size fits all. As tragic and heart-rendering as the plight of the refugees from Syria is, please bear in mind that we are dealing with a radically different culture and set of circumstances.

When we let in and took in thousands of Somali Moslems and housed them in Minnesota, we did not expect that their American-born children would become the backbone of the Islamic radicals in Somalia, the Shabaab. The Shabaab are no different than the Daesh (aka, ISIS) and their acts are barbaric.

Islamic culture has within it seeds of violence and intolerance that are deeply rooted in the Qoran and Hadith. I will not come to the defense of Europe, but to be fair, these folks did not come in to adopt European civilization. The Jews in Europe lived next to European civilization and, whereas they retained their distinct identity and religion, the Jews did not try to assimilate European society or convert Europeans.

We are comparing apples to oranges. The Christian and Yazidi communities are persecuted and should be embraced and welcomed by us. Alas, political correctness does not allow it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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