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Not for ourselves alone

Let me turn our attention to the refugees on the Belarus-Polish border, the Afghan refugees here and pouring into Iran and Pakistan, the Central American and Haitian refugees at our Southern border, and refugees in Africa from the wars in the Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia not to mention the lack of vaccines.

I commented a couple of weeks ago “Think what it would mean if we invited the refugees, and continued the 19th and 20th century project of building our population, industrial base and military power.” We could let states and cities invite and welcome whom they choose. And we could alleviate the horrible treatment of refugees and immigrants.

A part of that does worry me – we have a history of failing to protect both immigrant and domestic labor. We could, but we haven’t, and we’d have to deal with that.

When the world seems particularly bewildering, I often go back to first principles. Many of our religious traditions incorporate common principles of welcome and brotherhood, the word once commonly used to describe fellow-feeling among us regardless of color, faith, or place of origin. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Jews revere the ancient scriptures which played a part in making many of us the people we became. So I’d like to share a passage that reflects principles common to many of our faiths, particularly at this season, and that I find particularly moving. During the Yom Kippur services, when Jews confess our sins, beg for forgiveness and pray for another year of life, we join in reading:

Not for ourselves alone do we pray,

not for ourselves alone,

but for all Your children.

Knowing our failings,

let us be patient with those of others.

Knowing our will to goodness,

may we see in others a dignity that is human,

a beauty inviolate forever.

Every soul is precious in the sight of the Lord,

and every life is Your gift to us.

Yet one stands poised to strike the next;

armies uproot vines and fig-trees,

as war and war’s alarms make all afraid.

Not for ourselves alone, therefore,

not for ourselves alone,

but for all Your children

do we invoke Your love.[1]

There are undoubtedly similar passages in your own traditions. They remind us of our religious obligations. The Fourteenth Amendment is important not because we always obey it, but because we should. Our prayers for all people are important not because we always follow them, but because we need their teaching. It is important to recover and celebrate those teachings in a period when too many here and abroad celebrate only themselves and those like them.

It was appropriate that faith leaders who had absorbed the meaning of praying for all people, shared the podium and the microphone with Martin Luther King at the March on Washington and elsewhere.

If we each look back at our own histories, we’ll discover that many of our ancestors have been slaughtered and enslaved. To make a better world we need to recover the principles that lead us to share and care, and, as Rabbi David Katz recently told us, not to stand by while others suffer.

In that spirit may I wish happy holidays and a Happy New Year to all.

[1] [Quoted from Gates of Repentance, p. 295 (1978). A nearly identical version can be found online here.]

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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