As I write there are two images before my eyes.
One is of the desperation of children and young people amidst the burning remains of the camp in Calais. That children should suffer mistreatment, especially after the horrors so many of them have passed through, is an indictment of our humanity.
The other picture is of the beautiful letters of the opening words of the Torah, the shining black ink of In the beginning God created, emerging from the blank spaces of the parchment.
Judaism does not have an overt charter of Human Rights. Instead, it speaks of our responsibilities, of doing right, rather than asserting rights.
What Judaism does have, indeed what to many people Judaism primarily is, is a charter of ethics, grounded in the sanctity and dignity with which life is endowed.
This is evident from the very beginning of the Torah. The world is God’s creation. The relevant issue here is not if and how God made the world. The point is rather that the earth itself and all life on it, land, sea, trees, birds, fishes and animals, are integral parts of a sacred whole. They are not ours to destroy but to respect; they are not for us to own, but to nurture and protect.
Most significantly, every human being is imbued with God’s image. It is partly irrelevant how this is interpreted; whether, as different scholars have explained it, the reference is to the capacity for reason, imagination, creativity or speech. In whatever way we understand the words ‘the image of God’, the essential point is that this image resides in every person; it is the sacred trust with which each human being is endowed. Hence, no life is worthless; no one may be treated with cruelty or contempt.
Therefore, a corresponding obligation to care extends across the entire network of humanity and creation. It is our responsibility to safeguard God’s image both in ourselves, through how we conduct our lives; and in each other, through how we treat our fellow human beings and nature itself.
It is an impossibly high demand. History could be summarised as the record of our failures. Yet it is also testament to constant and outstanding examples of justice, compassion, courage, generosity, selflessness, tenderness and devoted love.
The meaning of our moment in time lies partly within our own power. Is it a time of tenderness, or cruelty? Are we, or are we not, faithful to the endowment with which we have been created?
There is no such thing as neutrality.
People call me every day to ask how they can help refugees, especially children. I’ve been listening to discussion among the leaders of several key organisations and hope to put forward more detailed suggestions as to how, individually and collectively, we can try to assist.
In the meantime, here are a number of organisations we should support:
The NNLS Asylum Seekers Drop in
JCORE (The Jewish Council for Racial Equality)