October 28, 2018


The Worst of Our Country--And the Best: The Pittsburgh gunman embodied the cruelty that has sometimes stained the United States--but the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which he reviled, has long represented America at its most compassionate. (James Fallows, 10/27/18, The Atlantic)

The worst of humanity is cruelty to the weak, and the other. The best is compassion for just those groups. This theme runs through all of the world's faiths -- the Torah and the Talmud, the Bible, the Koran,  their Asian counterparts, and others all emphasize the obligation of kindness to the stranger. In practice, America has fallen grossly short of that ideal. But in concept, an openhearted inclusiveness is the idea of America: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

What is a group that exemplifies these ideals? The best of religious traditions, the best of American aspirations, the best of human possibility? One excellent example is hias--a group that started out as a relief-and-resettlement agency for Jewish refugees from Europe in the late 1800s, and has become a tribune for refugees, the persecuted, and the desperate from around the world. Its motto and mission statement now is:

        Welcome the stranger

        Protect the refugee.

Its site says:

We understand better than anyone that hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia must be expressly prohibited in domestic and international law and that the right of persecuted people to seek and enjoy refugee status must be maintained. And because the right to refuge is a universal human right, hias is now dedicated to providing welcome, safety, and freedom to refugees of all faiths and ethnicities from all over the world.

Starting in the 2000s, hias expanded our resettlement work to include assistance to non-Jewish refugees, meaning we became involved in the aftermath of conflicts from Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Vietnam, and the successor states to the former Soviet Union. We began to work in countries where refugees fled to identify those in immediate danger to bring them to safety. We realized that there were many refugees who would not be resettled and that it was important for us to help.

Why mention hias right now? Because its Jewish background (and centrality in the family history of many Jews in America) and its current work in trying to deal with this era's tired, poor, and desperate were apparently part of the motive that led Saturday's murderer to gun down people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Deputy minister: Recognize non-Orthodox Jews after US synagogue shooting (Times of Israel, 10/28/18)

Deputy Minister Michael Oren said Sunday that in light of the massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, Israel must recognize liberal Jews as a way of strengthening relations between the Jewish state and the Diaspora.

"Liberal Jews were Jewish enough to be murdered, but their stream is not Jewish enough to be recognized by the Jewish State," Oren tweeted.

American enough, as Mr. Oren accidentally reveals.

Posted by at October 28, 2018 8:07 AM