Pieces of the Great Jewish Tableau

There is an interesting editorial in the Jerusalem Post about the influx of foreign workers who have come to Israel in recent years to “build our houses, to plant and harvest our fields, and to care for our elderly.” The approximately 250,000 to 400,000 foreign workers – half of them illegal – “did not only toil. They fell in love and married and had children,” the paper writes. “They learned about Jewish holidays. They played Israeli games and sang Israeli songs, dressed up on Purim and ate matza on Pesach.” And as for the more than 2000 children of these workers, they went to schools and studied with other Israeli children, learning to read and write in Hebrew.

Israel is currently formulating, at long last says the Post, a “coherent immigration policy” which would allow naturalization of the kids, their siblings, and parents. But the paper points to an obstacle by Interior Minster Eli Yishai, who is “proposing to expel 800 of the 1,200 (children of foreign workers) – reportedly according to arbitrary criteria, whereby only those children who are entering first grade next year would stay.” The Post has a familiar theory about his motivation:

It may be that Yishai is motivated by the deeply ingrained Jewish fear, fostered during nearly 2,000 years of exile, of intermarriage and assimilation resulting from relations with non-Jews. But while it is vital to protect Israel’s Jewish character, the Jewish people is no longer an embattled minority wandering among the nations.

The fear of intermarriage and assimilation as described is unfounded in both Israel and the Jewish community in general. While the editorial is written with foreign workers in mind, the philosophy of opening our doors to those who choose to live among us could be applied to intermarried families and children of intermarriage. We have a robust culture, community and a history that thrives on diversity and is made only stronger as we endorse and enforce the biblical directive to “welcome the stranger.”

Let’s not “punish” the children of those who have come to be a part of our Jewish community. Let’s recognize the children of intermarriage and their families for what they are – pieces of the great tableau that make up the Jewish people.

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