The concept of asylum can be seen as a place of refuge, a place to escape danger. Although the Jews have lived in the region uninterruptedly for more than three millennia, the state of Israel was established, in part, on the principle of creating a safe place for Jews after the Holocaust to provide them with asylum.

Asylum has also been linked to Jewish values of treating the stranger with kindness and care: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9)”. This idea of treating the stranger with care is mentioned 36 times in the Torah-the most repeated command to emphasize the importance of empathy and kindness. We tell the story of the exodus every year during Passover and repeat the saying “For you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” but what does it mean to us in today’s world? We commemorate Yom Hasho’a (Holocaust Memorial Day) every year and say “Never again”, but how does that come into play when we look at other people less fortunate than us in today’s world?

In the last two decades, the Israeli government and people have had to deal with the idea of ‘treating the stranger’ when hundreds of African asylum seekers entered Israel through the border with Egypt. Philosophical and political debates on the rights of those seeking asylum created divides between the left and the right.

The reason why the state of Israel was created- to provide asylum for Jews- was threatened by ‘strangers’ seeking that very same thing. As a Jewish state, built on Jewish values, the debate of providing care and a safe refuge for non-Jews becomes complicated and brings up contradicting ideas and values. Asylum, which on paper seems like a clear concept to follow and practice, is no longer an easy practice to hold.

In recent months, the concept of asylum has become relevant and timely again. In the wake of October 7th, 2023, hundreds of Israelis from the south and north of the country have become displaced and sought asylum in their own country and in Jewish communities around the world. The idea of the state of Israel being a safe haven for all Jews is now questionable in light of the recent events. A new form of displaced people now the citizens of a Jewish state is a constant reminder of the reality of life as Jews and calls for coming together as a community and supporting one another.

Since the days of the Bible, Jews have been displaced and have sought asylum time and time again, from Abraham’s “Lech Lecha” to the destructions of the Temples, to the Holocaust, and now to the horrific attack of October 2023.

Jews have experienced that feeling of being strangers in foreign lands, characterized by seeking the help and refuge of others and eventually growing into thriving communities. We now have the opportunity to reflect on how we operate as a global and local Jewish community, what brings us together, and what needs to be done to make us all feel safe again.

Time will tell how we grow and evolve from the latest tragic events of our people and how we find asylum in this new reality.

Source: Human Rights - written by young jews from 40 countries with support of B'nai B'rith International Portugal and International Observatory of Human Rights