because you were once...

March 23, 2021, Israel 

The holiday, festival, of Passover, is soon upon us. Jewish families are cleaning their houses as they only do at this time of year. Children are cleaning their rooms from top to bottom. More importantly we are cleaning our souls, getting rid of the ego, the arrogance, the anger; remembering our humble beginnings - We were slaves. We will not tear down these monuments, we will resurrect them every year, we will go through the process of freedom from bondage and slavery. We will not forget, we shall remember.  We learn from the past, we do not erase it. 

The night of Passover is a night for education. The young will learn our history, and our values. We were slaves, and we became free and we shall never return to be slaves. We shall fight for Freedom in every generation, and we shall fight for the rights of the oppressed.

Often I am asked why Jews are such big Leftist/Liberals, even when it is against their own interests. (I personally do not share this approach but I do understand the phenomena).  There are many historical and psychological reasons for this, but here I only wish to touch upon one aspect of this issue; the idea of caring for the stranger, the foreigner, the downtrodden, the underdog, is deeply rooted in our tradition. And thus even those who are far removed from our tradition seem to retain this deep caring for the "other".

The Hebrew word ger, which can mean foreigner, stranger, sojourner, immigrant, alien, outsider, appears in the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) 92 times. God shows a special concern for the outsiders, or rather He wants to teach us to show this special concern, all our equal in the eyes of God but some need special protection. Thus we are warned to protect the widow, the orphan, the poor,  the socially weaker elements. 

Immigrants are shown special attention because they are alone, they lack extended family and social networks, which were and are essential for survival. In a similar mode the Arab Bedouins also have a great tradition of hospitality, because a man alone in the desert cannot survive. Be kind to the stranger and their tribe will be kind to your lone stragglers lost in the desert. This is the law of the ancient world. 

Our tradition is very clear on these points and the faithful continue to study and read these words daily..

"and you are to love those who are foreigners, for you were foreigners in the land Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10, 19) 

"you shall not wrong a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers/foreigners in the land of Egypt."  (Exodus 22,20)

"And if a stranger lives among you in your land, you shall not wrong him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you (citizen), and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers/outsiders in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (i.e. I will know)" (Leviticus, Chapter 19, verses 33-34) 

In modern times Jews took a leading role in the struggle for workers rights in the United States of America. Samuel Gompers, born in the Netherlands as Samuel, Shmuel, Gumpertz, help found the Federation of Organized Trade and Labor Unions in America. This became the American Federation of Labor, Gompers served as president until his death. As a young man he spoke Hebrew and Yiddish studied the Talmud. He understood the moral values of the Torah and translated them into rights for the American worker. 

Emma Lazarus was another Jewish activist, her family had come to America to escape the persecution of the Catholic church. Her words are engraved on the American statue of Liberty!  

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.  (Emma Lazarus, November 2, 1883)

We are constantly reminded, admonished; remember the poor, the homeless, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, for that was once you! If not you then your parents, or your grandparents, or someone you know. Be kind and sensitive to others because you were once in that position, or you might be in the future. These values, the Hebrew Biblical tradition are the foundation of IKI; Israeli Krav International.  

When a new student walks in the door, we are all there to help him. Not only the teachers, but the advanced students, all the students. We make the newcomer feel welcomed. We do not mock or criticize. We remember that we too were once awkward beginners. 

The Passover Seder (order) begins with...our ancestors were idol worshippers...we remember our humble beginnings. Perhaps we should begin our martial arts lessons with...we remember our humble beginnings, we were all once white belts.

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