Monday, February 20, 2017

My Father Was a Syrian Refugee - My Remarks at the East Plano Islamic Center’s - “Make America One Again” Event

Yesterday, Sunday, February 19, 2017, I was honored to share a few remarks at an event celebrating and honoring refugees, held by MDHA supporter, the East Plano Islamic Center. Here is what I said:

My father was a Syrian refugee. I am a refugee.

Now, since my name is David Gruber, this declaration might puzzle you. That does not sound like a typical Syrian name… Allow me to explain.

Ancient Israel, like most societies of its time, was an agrarian society, and so their festivals centered around agriculture. However, as they developed their founding myths, my ancestors incorporated themes from these myths into their already existing celebrations. Perhaps the most fundamental theme, that they incorporated into these traditions, was the idea that we are refugees.

Therefore, one festival morphed into a celebration marking the escape from tyranny and persecution in Egypt. Another festival came to commemorate wandering in the wilderness. A third festival became a time to recognize the divine grace inherent in refugees building a new life in a new land.
Family of Syrian refugees at East Plano Islamic Center (EPIC).
EPIC is a supporter of MDHA.
On that third festival, the Israelites were commanded to acknowledge this divine grace, bring an offering to the priest, and proclaim their thanks for their resettlement in a new land.

In giving thanks, they were commanded to retell their entire refugee story. However, they were not to begin the story from the Exodus from Egyptian tyranny. They were commanded to start the story, from the very beginning, far back in the mists of time, when they were but a family, not yet a people. This family, like the people that later descended from it, were refugees too.

Do you know where this family came from? The first words of the story tell us, “A wandering Aramean was my father…” Do you know how we would say, “A wandering Aramean was my father…” in today’s English? “My father was a Syrian refugee!” Yes, the founding myth of our ancient faith begins with acknowledging that our mythical patriarchs and matriarchs were Syrian refugees.

Our acknowledgement of refugee status goes one step further, though. The Ancient Rabbis tell us that it is not just our ancestors, who escaped tyranny by divine grace. We did too. For if they had not escaped persecution, we too would still be living under a tyrant. They command us thus, “In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt.” We are to see ourselves as refugees!

This is not a difficult task for Jews. We have fled persecution many times in our history. Most American Jews are descended of people who fled from European tyrants. In this blessed land they sought and found equality. However, they also witnessed the intolerance and bigotry, that caused the doors of this land to shut, as European Jewry was destroyed, and six million of our brothers and sisters were murdered.

When the magnitude of the Holocaust became evident, we, as Jews, coined a term worthy to be shared by Americans of all creeds: Never again! Never again will we stand idly by. Never again will we allow bigotry and intolerance to rule the day. Never again will we sentence innocents to death by omission. We will stay true to our founding myth.

My father was a Syrian refugee. I am a refugee.

No comments:

Post a Comment