The images of people crammed into aircraft sitting on the floor, and worse hanging onto (and in many cases falling from) landing gear in Afghanistan have been appalling to witness. In a world of 24 hour news streams and endless social media it has been hard to escape. And as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Shabbat Shuva next month, it is hard to feel positive about the difference that has been made in Afghanistan since then.
In part I have a feeling of helplessness. Listening to the fear and horror of women watching their lives and freedoms vanish it is like reading or watching the dystopian fiction A Handmaids tale – but it is very very real. During the week Rabbi Michael Hilton reached out to us and alerted us to the fact that Edgware is home to a leading charity that supports Afghan refugees specifically. It is called Paiwand, and having reached out to them, they are in urgent need of toiletries, donations, and volunteers, as well as space to store and distribute donations. There are things we can proactively do, even if it isn’t going to make a difference on the ground in Afghanistan itself. And this is the kind of action we hear a lot about in our portion this week.
We are instructed to care for the stranger and the orphan, and it is explicitly stated that we must not subvert their rights. We are obligated to leave the corners of our fields and the late pickings of our vines unharvested for them to glean from and to save them from starvation. We are also told to ensure we pay a fair wage to a labourer, whether they are locals or strangers, and we must do so on the same day as their work is done. Caring for the vulnerable clearly includes those who are not born locally to you in the mind of the torah – we are to care for refugees and migrants too.
With so much discussion this week of the need to urgently accept Afghan refugees (if they can get out), I was reminded of an incredible poem by a Somali writer Warsan Shire. It is entitled ‘Home’ – and in Siddur Lev Chadash, the Liberal Siddur, the theme for Shabbat Ki Teitze is home. How we build a society that feels like home for all who need is a macro question for us as British citizens, and a micro question which we work towards as a synagogue community. But in a month where Haitians have seen their homes devastated by an earthquake, and Afghanis have seen their home turned into a battle ground won by fundamentalist extremists, Warsan Shire’s words have kept echoing in my head, and I wanted to share them with you. For many in the Jewish community they speak to our own experience as refugees historically. But this is also the experience of so many today. I’ve taken out the middle section as it’s long and the language is painful, but it is readily available online:
Home – by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Torah asks us to create a home not only for ourselves, but also for the stranger. Torah also insists this home should be a place where all are fed, their rights as workers are honoured, and where they can feel safe from the abuses and curses of the world. As a community we will be collecting new and unusued toiletries for Paiwand to distribute to it’s users. They are in urgent need so if you feel able to add to your weekly shop or dive into your stock of toothpaste at home, we will gather donations before taking them to Paiwand.
Home is not just for us. Home should be, like the tent of Abraham and Sarah, open on all sides to welcome travellers from whatever direction they come. May we all be blessed in the coming weeks with the ability to make a difference by helping a weary, pained traveller find comfort and security. Shabbat Shalom