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February 03, 1989 - Image 43

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

understanding of Jewish
marginality. We were
strangers on the edges of
society, dispossessed and
despised, and so we came to
feel the hurt of all of those
whose circumstances cause
them to be shut out of the ad-
vantages of society.
The sedrah is quick to
elaborate on this central idea.
We are enjoined, "Do not
follow a multitude to do evil"
(23:2). We are admonished to
practice strict justice,
especially, "You shall not
pervert the judgement of the
poor in pleading his case"
(23:6). This sedrah reflects an
idea that will resonate
throughout the Torah — con-
cern for the well being of the
poor. When we let our land
"rest" in the seventh year, it

Shabbat
Mishpatim:
Exodus 21:1-24:18,
Samuel 20:18,42

is in part so that the "poor of
your people may eat" (23:11).
When a poor person borrows
money from us and we take
his garment in pledge, we are
told to return it to him over-
night so that he shall not be
tormented by the cold (22:25).
This chord echoes throughout
Jewish life. Ultimately, we
come to understand that
when the poor man stands at
our door and asks for help,
God is at his side.
The Torah seems especially
concerned with two other
groups who represent those
on the margin of society:
widows and orphans, those
helpless, defenseless ones
who in the society of that day
could not protect themselves
or look after their own needs.
And so the Torah calls on us
"not to afflict any widow or
orphan, for if you afflict them
in any way, they will cry out
to Me and I will surely hear
their cry" (22:21-22).
This sedrah represents the
beginning of a theme that
will run throughout the
Torah and all of Jewish life —
the Jewish capacity for em-
pathy. We Jews have often
lived on the margin, and
throughout our wandering
among the nations of the
earth we would know oppres-
sion and deprivation, fre-
quently in other lands. So
very early we developed a
special feeling for those who,
like ourselves, are relegated
to the margins of society.
These are days in which the
concept of liberalism is often
dismissed and reduced to
ridicule. But there is no

escaping the reality that
Judaism identified itself with
liberalism of this kind from
the beginning. Concern for
"the stranger' is woven into
the fabric of Jewish life. It is,
indeed, the seed from which
so much of later Jewish life
would grow.
If there is such a thing as a
collective unconscious, a
shared voice and vision that
speaks to each member of a
group, then this idea of
"knowing the heart of the
stranger" is the imperative
that every Jews hears all the
time. We may interpret it dif-
ferently in different societies.
Often enough the stranger
has been we; that has rein-
forced and deepened our sen-
sitivity. But many times
other people were reduced to
being the "stranger" and
sentenced to social marginal-
ity: the poor, the immigrant,
working people, women,
minority groups of all kinds,
blacks, Hispanics. We Jews
have always felt our lot cast
with them, for we have
always understood reflexively
who the "strangers" are and
where our own sympathies
belong. There is a famous
statement attributed to the
German Protestant leader
Paston Martin Niemohler:
When the Nazis first came
for the communists I was not
a communist, so I did not
speak up; then they came for
the Jews but I was not a Jew,
so I did not speak up; then
they came for the trade
unionists but I was not a
trade unionist, so I did not
speak up; then they came for
the Catholics and I was a Pro-
testant, so I did not speak up;
by the time they came for me
there was nobody left to speak
up for anyone.
Niemohler's statement in-
dicates his moral growth from
an ethically obtuse bystander
to a sensitized victim. But no
Jew, attuned to the words of
the sedrah, could have made
that statement. For in our
hearts, we Jews know that
whenever "they" come for the
"stranger," the stranger is we.
We stand with every group
estranged from the
mainstream of its society. We
have lived the lot of the
stranger, so we know his
heart. We empathize with all
of those who are cast out and
stand with them.
The challenge in all
societies — and it is no less so
today — is to translate that
sympathy and concern into
action, to meet the needs of
the "strangers" of our own
day. That mandate cries out
to us from the very earliest
days of our existence. There is
no way we can avoid it
without denying who we are.

A MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST

Question:

Who is a good teacher?
Someone who:

A.
Makes the Jewish holid ays fun?
B.
Brings Jewish history to life?
C.
Talks to a student who needs help?
D.
gh
E. Sets hi goals and helps a child reach them?

Helps a student appreciate what it means to be

Answer: All of the
above

a Jew?

If you know a teacher whofi
fits these criteria,
he or she could be
your candidate for the

Schochet Family

Outstanding Teacher Award*

in Recognition of Excellence in Jewish Education

Any member of the Jewish community may nominate a teacher
at a Jewish school.

• Nominations should be sent to the Schochet Award
Committee, which will notify each candidate.

• Upon notice of nomination, a candidate who wishes to be
considered for the award must submit a proposal.

• The recipient will be awarded up to $3,000 for a project in
any area of Jewish learning and teaching.

The first Outstanding Teacher Award will be presented at a
public assembly in May.

Deadline for submitting the name of your candidate
is February 28, 1989.

Detailed brochures are available at all Jewish schools and from the
Schochet Award Committee, clo The Jewish Welfare Federation,
163 Madison Avenue, Detroit, Ml 48226-2180.

*Sponsored by the Frank and Freda Schochet Fund of the United Jewish
Charities, in partnership with the Jewish Welfare Federation of Detroit.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

43

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