What’s Past is Prologue

Door to the new Munich main synagogue built in 2006 to replace the one destroyed
during Kristallnacht.
Beryl Bresgi is Head Librarian and Director of Shoah Studies

In Parashat Lekh Lekha, God appears before Abram and tells him, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”  As the journey progresses, we are told that, “there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there…” The Hebrew verb, גּוּר, means “to sojourn there,” and according to modern commentators, indicates temporary residence. They also note that, “the resident alien was without legal rights and protection and was wholly dependent upon the good will of the local community. In biblical texts, the Ger is usually classified along with the deprived and underprivileged of society, such as the orphan and the widow, whom it is forbidden to oppress and to whose needs one must be particularly sensitive.” 

Saturday, November 9, marks the commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass or November Pogrom, during which Nazis in Germany torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses and killed close to 100 Jews. This is considered a turning point in the history of the Third Reich, marking the shift from anti-Semitic rhetoric and legislation to the violent, aggressive anti-Jewish measures that would culminate with the Holocaust.

This week’s Parasha is particularly resonant right now when we think of the refugees who left Germany after November 1938. These were the “lucky” ones who were able to flee the catastrophic events that the world could not even imagine would unfold over the following years.  

Today, refugees from around the world continue to flee their homelands, looking for places where they will be welcomed without oppression and whose ability to restart their lives depends on the good will of the community.  As of 2017, 55 percent of refugees worldwide came from three nations: South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria. As we commemorate Kristallnacht this Shabbat, let’s think about reaching out in our own ways to help those that “sojourn” in a strange land, just as our people have been compelled to do since biblical times.

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