On a recent radio show, The Take Away, I listened to the host, John Hockenberry, interview Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about Europe's current refugee crisis. Rabbi Sacks is a global religious leader who was Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013.
The two men first discussed Jewish refugees trying to leave Germany in 1938. That crisis brought together diplomats from thirty-two countries who met in Avignon, France in June of that year. But every nation represented, closed it's doors to the refugees. In the midst of that meeting, a few heroic individuals organized on the side a rescue train - which would eventually transport 10,000 Jewish children out of Germany. Private citizens or organizations had to guarantee payment for each child's care and education. This series of rescue operations was informally called Kindertransport and it became a bright spot during one of history's darkest times.
Rabbi Sacks believes that a Kindertransport type gesture is needed today for the refuge children crowding the Syrian border.
When asked how he thought countries could welcome, embrace and assimilate the muslim refugees from Syria today, he responded:
I've been saying that Britain should be exporting a message of coexistence from Britain to the Middle East instead of importing a message of conflict from the Middle East to Britain. Because in Britain we got on very well with the Muslim and Jewish communities. We worked at that relationship. Locally in Britain we have managed those relationships well, but there is a huge spillover in Europe of the politics of the Middle East. Today with all our global media a conflict anywhere becomes a conflict everywhere.
Hockenberry then asked, "Why is it so hard for Israel to envision having a sanctuary for some of these people from Syria? Often it is within walking distance."
Rabbi Sacks responded that Israel does offer medical sanctuaries. Because of political sensitivities, helping these refugees with medical care, has to be done well below the radar.
Israel has continued to be an asylum. There's no question that Israel is only one of two countries (the other being the U.S.) that was built on and exists as a refuge for asylum seekers. There's no doubt that Israel has offered asylum, but at the same time, you understand that many Syrians themselves are worried that if they take refuge in Israel they will no longer be able to return to Syria.
Hockenberry: "Do you think the U.S. should do more?"
The U.S. is an enormous country who has thus far taken in only a few refugees from the Middle East.
I think humanitarian gestures go further to change the climate of international politics than military interventions. Military interventions leave behind a legacy of resentment. Humanitarian interventions leave behind a legacy of gratitude.
So if I were talking about long term winning the peace I would say that being a home for refugees would probably be the single most effective thing that Europe and the United States could do.
More weapons simply reinforce more of the conflicts of the past and allow us to replay and replay and replay conflicts which are never resolved.
Hockenberry: "Where is courage being shown now?"
I think Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, is showing that courage right now. She's talking about bringing in as many as 800,000 refugees. That would be far more than all of the rest of Europe put together. This is courageous and is very clearly being driven by a sense of historical memory, pain, grief, guilt - an attempt to redeem the past.
I think when you do attempt to redeem the past by an act of generosity and open heartedness and an open door policy then you do actually change the world. That is the history we remember and it gives us hope as human beings.
I think an American historian calculated there has only been 29 years of peace since human civilization began. So war is the eternal story. But I think too much hope has been sucked out of the atmosphere of the Middle East and although it's another subject for another time, I do believe Jews, Christians and Muslims have to come together and say we all are members of the family of Abraham and there is such a thing as reconciliation. Genesis is full of sibling rivalries but it ends with reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers and bear in mind that his brothers wanted to kill him and eventually sold him as a slave.
The children of Abraham have a literature of hope. And I think I would sit with those children and talk those stories through and say that is your story and that is my story and together we can build a world if we're willing to make that our story as well.Sign up to receive new blog posts directly to your inbox. Just fill in your name and e-mail address in the gray box to the left and hit the "submit" button. You will then get an e-mail asking you to confirm your e-mail address. Once you do that, you will be signed up to receive new blog posts.