One week ago at this hour I was watching the details unfold – the terrorist masssacres in Paris put France, front and center, on the world’s stage – again. Since last Friday, November 13, our country has become divided – again. My social media news feeds have exploded with diametrically opposing views on how we should approach the Syrian refugees. My friends and my favorite pop culture sites have delivered everything from carefully constructed logic, to unbridled emotion on the topic. Truth be told, many of my favorite pop culture sites are no longer my favorites. As for my friends, I certainly don’t mean to offend you here, so if we stand on opposite sides, I still appreciate your thoughts.
Deep breath. Here we go. The loud, vocal protests of allowing refugees into America is unsettling to me: “Close the borders!” “Don’t allow a single family into our country!” “Build a wall!” “Send them away!” “We need to protect our own!” And the very worst, “Make the Muslims register.”
Just before the massacres, I was channel surfing while I finished a day’s worth of emails. I landed on Schindler’s List. I have seen it so many times and I know the ending. I didn’t think I could be brought to tears, yet again. But wept I did. And not just watery eyes. I sobbed out loud, in the privacy of my bedroom, safe and warm. I wept for the conspicuous lack of humanity. I wept for the audaciaous ability to hope. I wept for relief when the Jews were liberated. And I wept for Oskar Schindler – a Nazi, a Savior.
Jews and Muslims, like oil and water, don’t mix. So why do I, a Jew, need the Syrian refugees to be treated with so much compassion. Here is why – My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. I have their papers that granted them asylum, life and a touch of hope when they came to America through Ellis Island. I write tonight because of those papers. I write because there was enough compassion here in America, to allow the hopeless to hope. Here in America, my grandparents, Jews, would not have to register. Here in America, they would not be forced to identify themselves with golden stars embroidered on their clothes. Here in America, they could start over, build dreams, build homes, build families. Why we must accept the Syrian refugees is for the same reason America accepted my grandparents and their families. Why we must accept the Syrian refugees is because tonight, here in America, I get to write. Why we must accept the Syrain refugees is because we are a civilized society, we need to provide an escape from barbaric conditions and offer a chance for lives that otherwise would be lost.
I have a client, Ray, who has trusted me to care for eleven of his businesses. I went to visit Ray earlier this week. I asked him where he was from, guessing he was Middle Eastern but not exactly sure from which country. Ray’s answer saddened me. And embarrassed me. “I am from Iraq.” He continued, “But I am a Christian. I am a Coptic Christian”. I realized at that moment, how protective he must feel for his heritage. I feel like I owe him an apology for what must have felt like an interrogation. I am always interested in people’s genealogy. But I suppose in this day and age, it can sound like there is judgement that lurks beneath. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if he was Muslim. Ray has been very kind to me over the years. He is a good client and is a smart business man. He is very concerned about paying his taxes and making me promise to keep his businesses in compliance with the Federal and California governments.
We don’t know how the terrorists entered Paris. We only know what the media wants us to know. They may have entered with refugees but from the looks of things, they have a very sophisticated and complicated network throughout the world that has been in place for quite some time. We live in a country with an out-of-control gun problem. We have mass shootings in elementary schools carried out by white kids from the suburbs. We risk our lives in movie theaters while we are held hostage by an interpretation of Second Amendment Rights. We are hypocrites. We are using the tragedy in Paris to turn our backs on a crisis of human brutality.
“We need to protect our own!” Who are “our own?” Do I count as “our own?” Did my grandparents? How can we feel less scared of concealed weapons than we do of families who seek what we seek for “our own.” Opportunity. Life. Hope. Our collective compassion is required to remain civilized. The innocent victims of the terrorists are not only those that were gunned down without mercy in Paris, but also those who have left everything behind to begin an exhaustive journey with nothing more than hope. By fortune, I don’t know this level of desperation. At this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.