As I’ve grown older and experienced more life, I have become increasingly concerned about what responsibilities we, post-Holocaust Jews, bear towards ensuring that all people have access to human rights. Every time I watch the news, or listen to the radio, I learn about the plight of people across the planet with no access to food, health care, housing, education, and in some cases, statehood. When we think about all the countries that turned away those fleeing the Holocaust, the doors that were closed to survivors, and our plight immediately following the liberation of the camps, how can we, in all fairness, deny access to others who have nowhere else to go?
In Genesis, the Torah says that we are all created “B’tzelem Elohim” in God’s image. In my opinion, that means that we are all created equally. In Pirke Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, it says that “Rabbi Ben Azai would also say: Do not scorn any man, and do not discount any thing. For there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place.” This again reminds us that none of us is superior to another and that we need to treat one another accordingly.
The Shema says “Hear O’Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” reminding us that we are all one people, belonging to a universal nation, that embraces one humanity. Surely this imbues us with the responsibility to take care of one another, to ensure that everyone’s humanity is acknowledged, and not to diminish someone because they were born into circumstances that differ from our own.
In the time of the Mishna, the Rabbis of the Tosefta came up with the seven Noahide commandments—the laws that govern all of humanity, encouraging us to live morally and to ensure that justice is fair and consistent. The Mitzvot, which extend way beyond the Noahide laws, impose a greater obligation upon us, as Jews, to treat one another ethically. We need to step in, step up, and take action. This is a call to action, a reminder of our obligation, and the humanity that binds us together. Rabbis and educators across the nation are writing op-eds, inviting you to visit their Human Right Shabbat Services, and encouraging you to stand up for the rights of everyone. University Synagogue held its Human Rights Shabbat Service at 7.00 p.m. on November 11, 2017 where UCI Law Professor Jennifer M. Chacón spoke about “Immigrant Communities, Language and Memory.” University Synagogue again addressed Human Rights on Tuesday, November 21st, at it’s Thanksgiving Interfaith Service. There are other events across the community. “Do Not Stand Idly By.” Take action and step in.
Sue Penn, the Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, is known for being an innovative and creative educator. Sue sits on the Board of Directors for JFFSOC and Someone Cares.