We believe in a Judaism that is rooted in text and in history and experience, but that uses those sources, and our own resources, to engage in the issues of the present and future, to apply what we know to what we see in front of us and to what we want to see in the world that our children and our grandchildren will inherit.
When terrorism increased in Syria and people escaping ended up being denied admission to many countries, caught in bureaucratic nightmares and, in some instances, dead, the world responded. Many in the Jewish community, drawing from the Biblical exhortation to care for the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt and from the experience of our fore-parents who were often denied admission to the United States when they were fleeing terrorism and oppression, spoke up in support of a policy that would welcome refugees to our shores.
And when, instead, our government responded with a travel ban, Chancellor Eisen was among the earliest responders, writing “[T]here is no religious obligation more central to Judaism than the protection of refugees and immigrants.” In noting that the executive order flew in the face of a central Biblical principle, he applied that the principle to a contemporary issue and protested the assault on our values.
We may not always agree on what the current policy ought to be but we know as Jews that we have an obligation to stand up for the other, to fight poverty, to work for justice. And we are taught that it is not enough to muse on or study the issue, but that we need to act. Our faith compels us to respond even when we may not be able [almost always true] to solve the entire problem ourselves.
We have many examples in Torah of leaders willing to take risks, to exercise moral courage, that Jews might be saved and that the world might improve. And, much more recently, we have Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminding us to pray not only in our synagogues but with our feet. We have a Jewish community, as diverse as it is, that works in many different ways to make a difference in its communities, in this country and across the globe.
That is for me, an authentic and dynamic faith. It treasures its text and its history and it uses these as a guide for its actions in the present and the future. It recognizes our role, each of us, in determining how to use our faith, how to make our Torah a living Torah, how to live lives of meaning and purpose.