By Rena Magun
Snaking lines of exhausted refugees, walking, riding, some grasping children, a few belongings, looks of total helplessness on their faces. Not knowing exactly where they will end up but hoping that the future will be better than the dreadful present.
Police barricades in train stations resulting in bedlam and panic at the railway station as people push and shove, fighting for a chance to save their families. And horrible photos of dead toddlers.
No, I am not talking about the endless footage on TV of the current refugee crisis in Europe. I am talking about the screenplay of my childhood as the daughter of Holocaust survivors growing up in the United States. To this day, I cannot get on a crowded bus or train without thinking weird thoughts about the Holocaust.
So when I watch footage of today’s refugee crisis in Europe with my 93-year-old father here in Jerusalem in our sovereign state of Israel, I experience sensory overload.
“Look at them,” he says. “The Germans are handing out candies and stuffed animals to their children. Just for our people there was nowhere to go — no one would let them in.”
Sentences like these were an everyday thing in my house. Fortunately at a young age I developed a filter that enabled me to grow up somewhat normally (my children’s opinions notwithstanding), realizing that my parents’ experiences scarred them deeply and that they just needed to verbalize their paranoid, terror-driven thoughts.
But this time, even as his memory is slipping, Saba Joe is right on target, for the irony is screaming at us.
Germany, of all places, is welcoming the wretched refuse of Syria’s teeming shores. Is it out of guilt? Out of compassion? Out of a desperate hope that one amazing, internationally broadcast act of morality will somehow grant them the forgiveness for which so many of them yearn? All of the above? We can’t know.
How does all this make me feel? Many competing simultaneous emotions.
First, as always, there is deep and profound sadness that our people could not enjoy a similar welcome anywhere in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Wistful thoughts of “what if” and what could have been if the world had behaved differently.
Next is great joy and comfort that the humanitarian crisis that we Israelis have uncomfortably watched unfold across the border (but could not openly get involved in, for obvious reasons) is finally being noticed by someone other than us.
Then come anger and frustration that once again one insane man is being allowed to cause immeasurable suffering to millions of people. (Yes, I know it is not just Assad behind all of this, but he is responsible for a large measure.)
And happy again and optimistic that the world seems to have learned something in the past 75 years and that people are finally doing the right thing after four years of the Syrian people’s terrible suffering.
And finally, chest-bursting pride that my very own daughter treated hundreds of wounded Syrians for nine months as part of her army service as a paramedic in the most moral army in the world, the Israel Defense Forces.
It seems that the world is heeding the sound of the shofar. I pray that this phenomenon continues and spreads. Shana tova; may this year be a better one for everyone.
Originally from New Jersey, Rena Magun made aliyah from Virginia 20 years ago. She is the CEO of israelbarbatmitzvah.com. She and her husband, Rabbi David Ebstein, are living the dream in Jerusalem with their four children, ages 19 to 27. This piece originally appeared as a Times of Israel blog post.