A beam of sunlight shone through a window near the sanctuary ceiling and onto my face. I removed my glasses and closed my eyes to take in the warmth.
This sanctuary is home to a congregation of another faith that graciously makes it available for our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, when the combination of members and guests numbers a few hundred.
Our congregation is moving into its first permanent home — even as renovations continue — after worshipping in rented spaces for nearly 30 years. The significance of this development is not lost on the membership, especially those of long standing.
It was appropriate that our rabbi began the new year by discussing the concept of home in a material and spiritual sense.
In your home there is no need to hide or conceal any part of your identity, as you might when seeking acceptance in the world outside. In your home you can feel more secure and confident about your future, whether you are an individual or, in this case, a congregation.
It also was appropriate to connect the congregation’s good fortune with the waves of humanity making their way from parts of the Middle East into Europe.
Much of the current traffic originated in Syria, where a civil war in recent years has displaced several million people, as well as South Sudan and Libya.
It seemingly required the online sensation of a heart-wrenching photograph of a 3-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed ashore in Turkey to extend American awareness of this humanitarian crisis beyond those who regularly follow world events.
This situation defies glib suggestions made by politicians and pundits living comfortably thousands of miles away. Who is to blame for the Syrian conflict and how (and whether) it can be resolved peacefully are subjects for other times and other forums.
I read articles debating whether these people are motivated by a need to escape war and oppression or (just) to secure a better economic future; whether, depending on their circumstances, they should be called refugees or migrants; whether they will be exploited to form a Muslim fifth column in Europe; and why they are less welcome in lands occupied by their co-religionists and ethnic brethren.
Those issues are secondary for the masses on the move, whose immediate needs are shelter and food, and for the governments of European countries in varying degrees of economic health that are displaying varying degrees of hospitality, as thousands daily cross borders on foot, on boats, in trucks and on trains.
Throughout their history, the Jewish people have known something about being forced to flee their homes in the face of attack and oppression.
Seventy-five years ago, some of the European nations now facing the quandary of how to receive “the stranger” were complicit in the persecution of the Jews living among them.
During these days of introspection, American Jews might ponder how this nation — as it has often in our lifetimes — should respond to a humanitarian crisis. The Torah, in Leviticus 19:34, includes an admonition to treat well the stranger living among you because you once were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Then there are the words of the poem “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, gracing the Statue of Liberty:
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”