Op-Ed

At Thanksgiving, the reasons to take in today’s pilgrims

A migrant family waits for a train to leave at Keleti station in Budapest, Hungary in September.
A migrant family waits for a train to leave at Keleti station in Budapest, Hungary in September. NYT

At the meeting this week of WakeUp, a Jewish congregation in Wake Forest, we discussed the issue of Syrian refugees, and we unanimously expressed strong support for the admission of these refugees into our community.

The criteria we discussed were religious, political and practical, and all three measures of evaluation consistently led to the same conclusion: Let them in.

The Torah conveys the divine teaching to “remember the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” no fewer than 36 times – more than any other teaching in the Bible. And so we are religiously motivated to welcome these persecuted and oppressed people who are fleeing a brutal regime and a barbaric civil war.

The thuggish murderous enemies of the United States would portray us as the enemy of Islam. It is politically disastrous to play into their hands. Rather we should show the world, especially the Arab world, that America is still a haven for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – no matter their origin.

And finally, immigrants, whether they are refugees or not, have always been the engine of growth of the American economy. They require food, shelter and services, which all create new jobs. They work hard, often for relatively low wages, and they contribute to economic growth in important ways in a society that, like ours, has a low birth rate.

Experience and facts challenge the fear of terrorists entering America with refugees. Terrorists don’t wait for the two-year vetting process to conclude to breach our borders. Our land is relatively empty but inviting – between our metropolitan areas. And our hearts are full with compassion as we witness this human march seeking the same good life our own grandparents sought when they came to this country.

At this time of Thanksgiving, honoring the Pilgrims, we urge our government representatives to work to enable today’s pilgrims to join in the American dream.

Rabbi Jonathan H. Gerard lives in Wake Forest.

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