Of Buses and Caves
My first trip to Israel was in the summer of 1970, three years after the Six Day War. I was a staff person on United Synagogue Youth Israel Pilgrimage and was honored to be able to go there at that stage of my life. In those days, the regular buses of Egged were used for tours, at least the one I was on. Among the first things I learned about riding on these buses was that at the top of the hour, when the radio on the bus beeped, everyone was to be silent so we could hear the news.
The peace treaty with Egypt had yet to be signed and there were incursions that required military response. The situation was so tense, as it had been for many years in Israel, that listening to the news for the latest updates became part of the culture and a necessary component of understanding life in Israel.
In some ways, that experience has been repeated, albeit for a much more limited time, as I vacation with my family in Thailand. We have been transfixed on the events that led to the rescue of the 12 children and one adult caught in a flooded cave complex in Northern Thailand. The news stations on TV and radio have focused most of their broadcasting in covering the drama of these past two weeks. People were talking about it everywhere, recognizing that these lives made a difference to their world. The fate of those children, the preservation of their lives became the most important event happening.
As I scanned CNN and NBC and the New York Times, the coverage was there, also. The most up-to-date news that I could find came from the press in Israel, reporting on each child's exit an hour before I would see it in the American press. These events, apparently, raised consciousness around the world, with rescue teams and volunteers coming from all over. Sadly, as you know, one rescuer lost his life as his oxygen tank gave out before he could exit the waters filling the caves. In spite of that, the efforts continued, leading to the dramatic and successful three-day process of extracting the cave's captives.
Some of the children rescued were not born in Thailand. They were refugees who had escaped persecution in Myanmar. I saw absolutely no hint that their immigrant status made one bit of difference in deciding whether their lives were important. I witnessed Thai people aching for the pain the parents were experiencing because of their children's predicament and working hard to make sure the children would be treated well and that they might have the best tools available to recover from the trauma they experienced.
Yet look what is happening in America. We have separated children from parents, both of whom were seeking asylum from the ravages of life in their home countries. Even with court orders, our leaders can't seem to figure a way to bring them back together...lost data??? The tears of elation over the rescue of 12 children and their coach here are mixed with the sadness we are confronting in America. Yes, immigration is complicated, but this part of it is not.
While our tradition does not have a monopoly on good values, as Jews we rely on our sources to guide us in today's world.
As it is written, "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him... you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."- Leviticus 19:33-34
This applies to the wrong inflicted on the children separated from their parents and to individuals who, more and more in America, see it in their purview to harass people whose backgrounds are different than their's.
As always, our work is cut out for us...but when we work together, we can make a difference.
Rabbi Ted Feldman