Friday, September 11, 2015

Who will Rest and who shall wander? Rosh Hashanah

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At a time that terrible suffering afflicts millions in the Middle East and continues to traumatize those who have escaped, Jews prepare for our New Year and day of judgement: Rosh Hashanah.  In the synagogue the solemn words will ring out: “Who will live and who will die? Who will die in their time and who before their time? Who by fire? Who by the sword? Who by hunger? Who by thirst? Who will find rest and who shall wander?  Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued? …who shall be tormented?” This prayer talks about these decisions as being made by God alone. Yet, you and I are also making choices as citizens that might have some influence on these terrible questions.

This week’s decision by the Australian Government to resettle 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq, with a focus “on those most in need – the women, children and families of persecuted minorities”, 1 followed pleas by citizens as well as politicians. Last year I heard a representative of the Assyrian community describe the killing and devastation inflicted on his community by Daesh/IS. I connected with their pain and deeply wished this evil would stop! Now, thankfully, at least Assyrians will likely get some relief and be shown some compassion. 

On the other hand, one Australian Muslim who I respect and trust had a different perspective on the government’s announcement. “Muslims will forever remember a time that Australia turned its back on them, or planned too, when they are at their most vulnerable.  This is what radicalises people. Do you see why I say that this government doesn't really care about true de-radicalisation? This is the beginning of the end. Remember this moment! It's when we sacrificed our security, humanity and self-worth for political manoeuvring”. This perspective must be taken into account.

The decisions about who should be resettled and who will continue to suffer and “find nowhere to rest their feet” should be, and should be seen to be, based on need rather than ethnicity or religion. The right to save this one and leave another to suffer could only be claimed by God. Human justice must be procedural and impartial. The NSW Jewish community 2013 policy statement asserts that government should “not adopt any policy that arbitrarily limits or excludes from refugee protection any category of people with a genuine and well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland”. 2

The argument that a non-sectarian policy is necessary for social cohesion is consistent with an article written this week by former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It should be noted that Sacks is not on some kind of left-wing politically correct bandwagon. In fact in 2007, he wrote that “Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation…societies more abrasive, fractured and intolerant…”.  3 This week he wrote that it “is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers”, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now. A bold act of collective generosity will show that the world, particularly Europe, (or the west) has learned the lesson of its own dark past and is willing to take a global lead in building a more hopeful future. Wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war”. 4 As my respected Muslim correspondent quoted above points out, the opposite is also true.

We must be hard on the problems and refuse to accept the avoidable suffering of our fellow humans, regardless of ethnicity or religion.  On Rosh Hashanah, I will pray that ‘God reign over the world in a way that will be known to all’. To me, this means that principles of justice and mercy prevail rather than the interests of the rich and powerful or the short term political interests of politicians. At the same time, let us treat each other with understanding and grace. A beautiful Rosh Hashanah prayer asserts that humans are “like a fading flower, like a broken shard of earthenware, and a dream that flies away”. This is a challenging time for those who are suffering and for the preservation of the fragile fabric of our still largely cohesive society. I pray for wise, responsible and compassionate choices by all concerned. 

2., policy last updated (according to the website at 11 am on  10.09.2015) on 17.9.2013
3.    Sacks, J, (2007), the Home We Build Together, p.3, Continuum, London.
4. accessed 10.09.15


  1. Zalman,

    I am myself an immigrant from the Soviet Union who arrived in Canada in 1989. My heart feels that refugees should be helped, but my mind says that these refugees, if they are Muslim, pose a danger. Muslims need to clean house; fix the system/belief/culture that is producing murderers in the name of G-d and hatred of Jews. This will reassure non Muslim countries that they are not a threat. Non Muslim countries with large Muslim populations are in distress because of their Muslim populations. Examples include France, Israel......

  2. Tzvi, I don't have much understanding of the situation in France. I think the principle needs to be that each person is judged on their merit. I don't think it is just to say to someone that because a person who is of the same religion as you and s/he is evil you will be denied compassion in a time of need. Hatred of Jews by people who are Muslim, like any hatred of any group by any person is wrong and must be addressed by anyone with the capacity to do so. The bigotry of some people should not be blamed on others who don't hate.

  3. With thousand crossing the border everyday, how do we know who hates and who does not? The hatred of Jews amongst Muslims is not amongst a few individuals. Jews are afraid to walk in Muslim city neighbourhoods in Europe (,7340,L-4618568,00.html), Anti-Semitism is highest in Europe since the War, and more and more European Jews are moving away.

  4. here are some findings on the level of anti-Semitism coming from Muslim countries/cultures. How can the influx of Muslim refugees not inspire fear
    in Jews?