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At Rosh HaShanah, Reform Jews Appeal for an International Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

At Rosh HaShanah, Reform Jews Appeal for an International Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

In Jewish tradition, the entire month before Rosh HaShanah is devoted to a searching examination of our words and deeds over the past year. This examination, this accounting, is both personal and communal. So while we anticipate the sweetness of the year to come, we are painfully aware of our own shortcomings and those of the world in which we live.

As we prepare to stand as one to account for our actions and inactions during the year just ended, I cannot help but reflect upon the current refugee crisis in the Middle East.

This year, we find it impossible to close our hearts to the plight of the millions of refugees seeking a haven from violence and persecution – and it is impossible to close our eyes without seeing the helpless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi from Kobani, Syria, whose father is the only living survivor of his family. In our accounting of the year that is ending, we must face the knowledge that we and the world have thus far failed the Kurdi family and others like them, even as we pledge to do better in the year to come.

More than reflect, however, the Syrian people’s horrific plight compelled me to take action, sending a letter to our elected officials this week before Rosh HaShanah.

In it, the Union for Reform Judaism urges both international leaders and North American constituents to respond with strength and commitment to the growing and urgent crisis of refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the region. The letter went to President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

In the face of the most pressing refugee crisis since World War II, the Reform Jewish community calls on Congress and the administration to act now, appealing on behalf of the millions of refugees worldwide, including more than 11 million Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees who have been forced to flee their homes because of ongoing violence.

The response to this appalling refugee crisis must be international. It cannot be the responsibility of any one entity, nation, or even region to address both the crisis’s root causes and its effects. At the same time, we are well aware that it will not be easy to formulate or implement an international response – but that difficulty cannot be an excuse for inaction in the face of a crisis of such proportion.

Every individual can help respond to this humanitarian crisis, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has created several resources and opportunities for people to get involved by:

  1. Learning more about the refugee crisis, its roots, and the global response
  2. Taking action by urging lawmakers to respond
  3. Adding a special prayer to High Holiday observance
  4. Sponsoring a refugee family (for Canadian congregations)

I am hopeful that next year at this time, we as a nation will be able to say that we did not stand idly by, but rather that we acted, helping to lift our brothers and sisters out of harm’s way and restore their dignity.

Indeed, how different our world might be today had others done the same when, 80 years ago, it was we who were in harm’s way.

G’mar chatimah tovah, may you be sealed in the Book of Life for good.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), representing the largest Jewish movement in North America, with almost 900 congregations representing nearly 1.5 million people. For nearly 150 years, the URJ has been at the forefront in promoting an open, progressive Judaism in North America, Israel, and around the world. An innovative thought leader and representative of progressive Judaism, Rabbi Jacobs has been featured by The New York Times and appeared on CNN. He spent 20 years as a dynamic, visionary spiritual leader at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y. and, dedicated to global social justice issues, he has led disaster response efforts in Haiti and Darfur. He also served Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, where he founded and co-directed the first synagogue-based homeless shelter in New York City. Learn more about Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs
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