I had forgotten. When I was a little girl, I saw the babies with the distended stomachs in various distant countries on TV and it made me really sad and I wanted to give them all my porridge. (Showing pictures of starving children in distant countries is *not* a good way to get someone to eat their porridge. I wouldn’t touch it and kept insisting it be sent right away to the starving children in question.) After that, I grew up and the images affected me less. I realized things like political realities, limited resources, interference with self-determination, and the fact that porridge could not be sent through the mail.
So when I saw the little refugee kid who had drowned, my first response was exactly that. “Well, Canada cannot take in every person in the world,” I thought. “Resources are limited. There are real reasons why this child’s country and surrounding area were so politically messed up that he died, and I can’t change them. The parents should have done something differently. After all, my parents brought me to Canada. Porridge can’t be mailed. A single person can’t help.”
I read the news, I saw the controversies, I thought about all the things that people were doing and not doing, I had reasoned opinions, I even thought about stuff to write – and then all of a sudden the words, “how dare you?” came in to my head and stayed there. How dare I? How dare I think that I was smarter than that little girl that knew that starving kids is a sad, bad thing? How dare I not be affected by a baby dying from drowning? How dare I not give all I could to this situation? I had better be trying to do something! Maybe porridge can’t be mailed, but there are so many things that could, from cards to petitions, from money to letters. That girl – she knew, right away, instinctively that it was not OK for little kids to die because they had no place to be and no food to eat. She knew that. How on earth could I have forgotten?
Judaism has a lot about welcome. Being welcoming is the not only a Jewish virtue, but considered one of the key ones. Many days in service, after saying the blessing for Torah study, we say “and these are the deeds whose benefits are both for this world and the next, the ones we should pay attention to” and in that list is welcoming. So, we have to find some way of welcoming strangers.
We cannot say, “this is not our problem.” Judaism is clear about that. As non-starving reasonably all right residents of a wealthy country that benefits from the resources and labour of other lands, we must share in the responsibility – not only for that drowned boy, but for those pictures of starving children that so affected me when I was little.
Will I tell you what to do to fix the situation? No. The best I can suggest is, “do not mail cooked porridge – it is not effective.” I don’t have answers as to the best way to handle any political situation. My political acumen is so miniscule as to be laughable. I don’t have much time or money to give much more than I already do. Still, I do know something must be done. I know that I need to be affected by tear-jerker pictures no matter how cynical about them I’ve become. I think we all do. All of us need to look at those images and be affected and let them bother us. Whether it’s through private sponsorship or the way we vote, volunteering or letters and petitions, we need to do the right thing, the Jewish thing, the welcoming thing. Maybe she could do nothing sensible, that kid I used to be, but at least in her expression of horror, she was on the right track. This Elul is a good time to get back on that track, to return.