Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. ‘No real refuge in Canada for some refugees,' Globe and Mail (15 June 2012).

Philip Berger, Bernie Farber and Clayton Ruby

The Jewish Refugee Connection

Community Photo St Louis Aboard the St Louis

Jews as Refugees – Biblical Connection

The Exodus from Egypt, one of the central stories in Jewish tradition, is a foundation document of Jews as refugees.   Having been held slaves under the pharoahs for several hundred years, the Israelites were desperate for their freedom.  Their dramatic departure reached its climax at the Red Sea, when the Israelites were finally able to escape Pharoah’s soldiers and Egypt.

Jewish law - Spiritual Connection

Jewish texts and laws provide a constant reminder about the Exodus and about the experience of slavery in Egypt.  The Exodus is the central experience recounted in the Torah. It is mentioned as part of our weekly Friday night blessings, and is told in far greater detail at our annual Passover seders.  At the seder, surrounded by comfort and good food, we are encouraged to remember the story as if we were the ones who had been slaves and refugees.   

The experience in Egypt is repeated often in the Torah, with the explicit admonition to treat others with compassion and justice.  Our Biblical laws – requiring us to provide for the widow and orphan, to treat workers fairly, and to help the foreigners in our midst - explain that we must do so because we ourselves were foreigners in Egypt.  This idea is echoed more than 30 times in the Torah.  Here too, we are asked to put ourselves in the position of our ancestors: slaves and foreigners in Egypt.

Jews as Refugees - Historical Connections

The Shoah (Holocaust) was another defining moment for the Jewish people.  The genocide of six million Jews was a tragedy, heightened by the indifference of those free countries who refused to admit Jews to safety on their shores.  Canada is one of several countries who bear the shame of having refused to receive 900 Jewish refugees who had managed to escape Germany aboard the ocean liner St. Louis.  Many Canadian Jews remember the treatment of these desperate Jewish refugees.

Jews and Roma – Parallel Histories of Persecution

The persecution of Jews in Europe for many centuries, bears certain similarities to that experienced by the Roma people, who also faced restrictions on their employment and permitted living areas, violence, expulsions, and other forms of oppression. The Roma people, like the Jews, were the only other group legally targeted for extermination by the Nazis, and experienced their own genocide known as the Porajmos. Unfortunately, the Roma in Europe continue to suffer many forms of violence, discrimination, at the hands of bigots and fascists with the collusion of some governments.

 

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