FOR YOU WERE STRANGERS IN EGYPT
By Jane Drucker
I admit that I’m vain. In my head I have an image of myself that I expect to see in the mirror, but the woman who currently lives in the glass is different from the one in my mind, and when she shows herself, I’m a bit disoriented.
This isn’t a time to bemoan an aging body, however. In my Jewish world, this is a season to examine my soul and to reflect on how I well live in the world around me. In my heart, I believe that I’m a good person, and the world is a worthy, if flawed, place. When I reflect on the reality of my life, though, I see a more complex person. I can be all the good things that my heart wishes me to be, but I can also be judgmental, harsh, and self-absorbed. And when I examine my country, I see that it too is complex and not always the good place my heart wishes it to be.
The last two and a half years have been “challenging”. I’m distressed by the venom that is spewed daily on social media. I’m troubled by the way so many of us now interact with family, friends, and strangers…afraid of offending instead of eager to debate and learn. I’m horrified that the world of division, anger, and mayhem that my father always said could not invade this country is creeping into our towns and invading our institutions.
I am first generation American, the daughter of two parents who escaped the Holocaust. I grew up believing that this country was fundamentally a safe haven for the displaced and unwanted people of other countries. I grew up believing America to be a place of fairness and opportunity the way it was for my parents as they rebuilt lives to replace what was stolen from them. Others have come to this country to build better lives too, but they are no longer welcome here. Our “President”, who I believe holds that title and job only because an election was manipulated for him, encourages these vile changes in our collective consciousness. His rhetoric and behavior disgust me.
I’m not naïve. I have long seen that my white skin affords me privileges that are denied to my brown friends and neighbors. I know that I’m part of a long distrusted and reviled minority, but I also know that I can safely “pass” while many others cannot. I feel the agony of refugees and laborers trying to find shelter from the political and economic upheaval in their homelands, and I weep for the victims of recent weather catastrophes. Our “leaders” have decided that they are a threat because they are poor, uneducated, and brown.
Next month I will read from Torah, the sacred scroll of laws and precepts that have guided the lives of my Jewish brethren for three millennia. In English, the words I will chant are:
“…When a stranger resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The stranger residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt…”
America is a land of strangers, some long-established, some recent. As I reflect on the condition of my soul this season, I am considering how good a job I am doing at welcoming the stranger. I challenge this country to take stock of the state of our collective soul. We can do a more perfect job of living up to America’s promise. For remember that each of us was a stranger not too long ago.