“For You Were Slaves…” Remember?

Gershom Gorenberg

I have a new article up at the Hadassah Magazine site on African refugees in Israel:

When he was 13, Akon told us, the government-backed militia came to his village in southern Sudan.

“They started killing people and burning their houses,” Akon said, speaking so quietly that I had to lean over our coffee cups to hear his voice amid the music in the Jerusalem café. “They killed my mother. My sister, they raped her, and she died.” The militiamen took Akon to northern Sudan, where they sold him as a slave.

So began the nine-year odyssey that brought him to Jerusalem.

Looking across the table, I saw lines in a dark face. He looked much older than 22 years. The family that bought him, he said, put him to work taking care of their cattle and camels. He was the first to rise each day, the last to sleep. He was beaten and insulted. Because he would not convert from Christianity to Islam, he said, “I was a devil in their eyes.”

Slavery was something I had read about in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and history textbooks. Now a former slave sat across from me. I thought of inviting him to my Pesah Seder, then wondered what he would think of the words.

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Refuge or Refusal: Israel and Darfur

“An infiltrator is subject to five years imprisonment,” reads the government-backed bill that gained initial approval of the Knesset yesterday, by a vote of 21-1*. If the “infiltrator” – someone crossing illegally into Israel – is from an enemy country, the maximum sentence goes up to seven years.

In other words: The law states that if a refugee from Darfur fleeing genocide reaches the State of Israel, he or she can expect not refuge but seven years imprisonment.

Consider yesterday’s vote a preliminary decision to declare that Israel is no longer a Jewish state – for to refuse refuge is to deny the most basic values of Judaism and to erase the lessons of Jewish history. Rather than “The Prevention of Infiltration Act,” this bill should be titled, “Act of Amnesia.”

According to Ha’aretz , the bill has been sent to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, “which does not have experience with migration issues and whose sessions are held in camera.” Before I go further, let me note that the fax number of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is +972 2 6753100 and the email address is v_bitchon@knesset.gov.il . The committee chair

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Department of Hope: Celebrating Israel’s 80th

What could Israel look like in 20 years, if we do things right? My article looking forward is now online at the National Post in Canada:

In Israel, 2028, Ibrahim Abdullah Hapalit is the reigning literary star. His first novel, Sinai, is based on his childhood escape from Darfur, across Egypt and the Sinai desert to the promised land. The last chapter, "Light," describes his parents’ ambivalence when he asked to light a Hanukkah menorah so he could be like the other children in his school. Critics rave over Hapalit’s Hebrew, built out of Biblical language and the Chinese-West African slang of south Tel Aviv’s immigrant alleys.

In Israel in the summer of 2028, no visitor to Jerusalem would skip outdoor Friday night services on the promenade overlooking the Old City from the south. Dozens of congregations meet there, a grand bazaar of Jewish religious styles. Rabbi Sarit Avihai,

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The Land of Asylum

This idea that Israel should offer asylum to non-Jewish refugees – how new is that? Some crazy concept thought up by secular Tel Aviv liberals with no concern for Israel’s Jewish character?

Actually, no. Just a bit older than that.

After my post a few days ago on the need for a new policy on African refugees reaching Israel, I got an email from my son, who’s now studying at Ma’aleh Gilboa, the yeshiva of the Religious Kibbutz Movement. He sent me a text from Sefer Hahinukh, an anonymous 13th century religious text

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