Our ancestors were refugees

My ancestors were wandering refugees. Yours too. We should remember that now. Lives depend upon it. 

The Torah reading this week, Noah, ends with the start of Abraham’s journey.  It reads: “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.” Genesis 11:31-32.

Genesis gives no indication why Abraham's father, Terah, would suddenly uproot his family and head toward the city of Haran. Archeologists have an explanation. They discovered and interpreted cuneiform tablets from a city in Syria in the 18th Century BCE. They are known as the Mari tablets. The tablets describe political and cultural strife around Abraham's time that scholars think offers clues to his migration.  That migration to Haran was a long and hazardous journey. Haran was located in what is now Syria, some 500 miles north and west of the Babylonian city of Ur where they started.   

Most likely, Abraham’s journey was that of a refugee escaping instability in what is now Iraq. In recent years refugees from the war-torn areas of Iraq and Syria travel north and west seeking safety.

This year 3,740 refugees are reported to have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. More refugees have died this year crossing the Sea than in previous years. And this year is not yet over. While overall numbers of refugees journeying have decreased, the danger of the crossing has increased. 

How many young men with the potential of an Abraham may have been among the refugees?  How many have not survived the ordeal? 

Refugees escaping economic hardship and political oppression are again seeking safer status. That’s the story of our ancestors, starting with Abraham and continuing today. To be Jewish is not merely to be the descendant of refugees but also to not turn our back on the stranger, the widow and the orphan. The memory of Abraham is calling out to us to assist the refugees today. Please go to the HIAS website and learn more about how the Jewish people are helping refugees today.

R’ Evan J. Krame