WHEN OUR CHILDREN were young, we welcomed Shabbat (the Sabbath) into our home on Friday nights and incorporated the beautiful Jewish custom of placing our hands on each child’s head and reciting the Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing found in Numbers 6:24-27.
It is difficult to describe the connection that occurred between us and our children as we looked into their eyes and wished for them the blessing of God’s countenance, gracious presence and peace in their lives.
Now when I hold my grandchildren, I look at their sweet, innocent faces, and I am just as overwhelmed with that indescribable love as I was when I held my own children.
There is nothing so powerful as the utter trust they put in us.
They are so dependent on us for love and protection.
Their cries when they can’t find us or when we have to leave them are heart-wrenching.
Of course, when I left my children, they were in a loving and caring environment, and they knew I would always return to them.
I cannot imagine the trauma experienced by a child if a parent did not return.
Today we are witnessing children not only being ripped from their parents’ arms, but being held in sordid conditions with no sanitation, proper food or clothing, sleeping on concrete floors, lights left on all night, sick and hungry, without the loving touch of their parent or for that matter, of any adult.
How could this happen in America?
As George Takei said, at least when he was put in a Japanese internment camp, he was with his parents.
These poor sick children have no one to turn to.
Older children are trying to take care of toddlers and babies who are not even their siblings.
All experts tell us the trauma being inflicted on these innocents will be with them all their lives, and the damage we are doing to an entire generation is tragic.
Recently, there has been discussion of whether these detention camps can be called concentration camps.
As a Jew who has spent decades studying and teaching about the Holocaust, I can unequivocally say they absolutely are.
When I taught my students about the Holocaust, I always explained that my sole purpose was for them to understand how something like this could occur in a country which prided itself on its culture and a highly educated public.
I wanted them to see that without vigilance, it could happen again so they should recognize the signs.
Select a group that is “different” and scapegoat them, blame the country’s problems on them, warn of the dangers they pose to society, claim they are destroying the culture, taking the good jobs and are a threat to the country’s stability.
But most importantly do all you can to dehumanize them.
Make sure they are seen as ragged, uneducated and dirty so it’s easier to treat them like animals.
Today, our government has done an excellent job of portraying refugees fleeing violence and seeking asylum as not worthy of our basic humanity.
The children being kept in the camps are not even worthy of receiving the donations of soap, toothpaste and diapers that are being brought to help relieve their suffering.
These children are now seen as no more than ragged, filthy creatures and have been utterly dehumanized.
I challenge every parent to imagine your own child in this situation … sick, hungry, in the same clothes for weeks, not able to sleep or have access to basic sanitation and having no one to turn to for comfort.
Imagine the agony you would feel knowing their terror and pain, and yet being unable to reach them.
Remember, during the Holocaust, good people did nothing and simply looked away.
We cannot let this happen again.
Let us work to bring an end to this horror by extending our hands to these families in whatever way we can and making the ancient blessing become a reality.
Let us become the instrument of God by shining our countenance upon them, being gracious to them and granting them the peace they so desperately need.
We must treat them with the love, dignity and humanity they deserve, understanding that they contain the spark of the divine within them, as do we all.
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.