The following is an excerpt of my new piece in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle:
More than any other holiday, Shavuot, which we enjoyed at the beginning of last week, celebrates compassion and empathy. Based on the Book of Ruth, it tells the story of Naomi, her husband and two sons, who emigrated from Bethlehem to the nearby country of Moab. Naomi’s husband and sons died in Moab, but not before her sons married local women. Ten years later, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, and they live in destitution. Ruth gleans Boaz’s field to support Naomi and herself. Eventually, Ruth and Boaz fall in love, marry and birth King David’s grandfather. Everyone lives happily ever after.
But this past Shavuot, as I was reflecting on the Book of Ruth, I was haunted by a feeling of disconnect. American Jews always tell me that they cherish Israel as a place of refuge. Israel will always welcome American Jews with open arms, just like it accepted Naomi and Ruth after 10 years in the diaspora. But while the American Jewish community values Israel as a safe haven, at their core, American Jews believe in universal human rights. I have yet to have an American Jew tell me that Jews have a right to refuge but that we care not about others. Yet Israel, which happily accepts Jews like Naomi, gives a cold shoulder to the Ruths escaping horrendous life-threatening situations.
In a wonderful piece on Local Call, a Hebrew news website, Rabbi Idit Lev of Rabbis for Human Rights writes that if Ruth and Naomi had lived in contemporary Israel, Naomi would not have been able to return with her daughter-in-law. Ruth, after all, would have been considered an illegal immigrant from an enemy state. Israeli politicians would have called her an “infiltrator,” and Miri Regev, the Minister of Culture and Sports, would have said that Ruth and her kind resemble a “cancer” in the nation of Israel. Like other infiltrators from Africa, the Israeli government would not give Ruth legal status and therefore the right to work and the right to receive medical and social services.
Read more by clicking: Yesterday’s Ruth would not have been welcome in today’s Israel