Jews are voracious judges of other Jews. We critique each other’s foods and fashion. Sometimes we discriminate and denigrate each other. But if any other person, group, or nation endangers a Jew, we are united in purpose. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Israel had the opportunity to demonstrate unequivocally that all of Israel cares one for the other. This week, I’m on a mission to determine if Israel seized the opportunity or left it knocking at the door.
In Torah this week, God instructs us to redeem a fellow Jew who has been indentured. In the ancient economy, when an individual could not pay their debts, that person would lose their freedom. Torah offers an economy of belonging. Our anointed group is built on a foundation of mutual responsibility.
The modern global economy of ideas reimagines responsibility. Humanitarian concerns are less particular to any group or faith. For example, Israel has an international emergency response team. Israel’s team is always ready to fly off to help at the site of any disaster. Locally, our Jewish Federation has relief campaigns raising funds for hurricane victims, people imperiled by economic downturns, and war refugees. We know how to transform concern into active caring.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, Israel’s special teams arrived to distribute medical supplies. Israeli teams quietly rescued and recovered injured and ill people. At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that Israel would “embrace” Jews fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and allow refugees who aren’t eligible for citizenship to stay until the situation has “calmed.”
Those who read Torah understood that the first obligation as Jews is to take care of each other when in dire straits. Prioritizing our pledge as Jews to redeem each other, sets us in opposition to modern humanist approaches. Critics questioned the morality of Israel’s preferential treatment of Jews from Ukraine.
I’m off to Israel for a few days. The Jewish Federation has subsidized a trip for rabbis to meet with Ukrainian refugees and learn more about Israel’s response to this war. We will also discuss efforts to bring additional Ethiopians of Jewish heritage to Israel. Finally, we will meet with residents of Lod and Ramle to discuss tensions in towns with mixed Jewish and Arab Israelis.
Foremost in my mind, I will be trying to find balance. We will experience how we Jews honor Torah’s directive that Jews care for each other, in the creation of a Jewish state and in the law of return. At the same time, I will ask if we are also successfully recognizing that every single person is a child of one Creator, all deserving of life and dignity. As I report back, I will offer my analyses of how Israel is both a nation of priests that cares for each other and for every person in jeopardy. I’m hoping to find that all Jews are defined not merely by our caring but by how well we act on our responsibility to honor all human life.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame