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“Every day not far from here, as we sit here, men, women and children are murdered in Syria, and particularly in Aleppo,” said Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. “Millions of refugees are homeless, hundreds of thousands of others are starved, under siege. Perhaps they are not our friends, but they are human beings who are suffering a small holocaust.”

Rav Yosef (son of Rav Ovadia Yosef z”l) delivered these remarks at a recent inter-religious meeting with Palestinian Muslim Clerics, convened and hosted by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

Rav Yosef emphasized that Jews in particular, who endured the Holocaust and the murder of 6 million people as “the world looked on and remained silent,” must not do so now.

“As Jews we must not stay silent. The call must be heard from here: A genocide will not be allowed to go by quietly – not in Syria and not anywhere else, and not against any people.”

This powerful call to action by Israel’s Chief Rabbi is a reminder that as Jews – Holocaust survivors or not – we have an obligation to help improve the world.

Contrary to popular belief, the mandate for Jews to repair a broken world, voice opinions for social justice and act as agents of social change is not a modern-day idea. It’s actually rooted in the definition and purpose of being “God’s Chosen People.”

One of the most misunderstood concepts in Judaism, the idea of “The Chosen People” is not rooted in the Jewish people being a superior race or better than other human beings. The “chosen status” of Abraham’s children is not a privilege rooted in a physiological birthright. It’s a responsibility to help repair what was (and still is) a very broken world.

This is spelled out in very clear terms by God, in Genesis 18:19, which can be viewed as the “mission statement” of the Jewish people:

            “For I have singled him (Abraham) out, that he may instruct his children and his descendants to keep the way of God, by doing tzedakah (righteousness) and mishpat (justice).”

What is a Jew? It is someone whose Jewish upbringing, whose ethics, and whose values and purpose on earth are to take the gift given to us by God – life on planet earth – and make this earth and its society the best, most ethical, scientifically advanced, medically sound, economically secure, literate and peaceful place to live. It is someone who always remembers that God chose us here on earth “La’asot Tzedakah U’Mishpat.”

As my recent teacher and mentor Rav Avraham Shalem z”l wrote:

“It is not sufficient to live by a dry and mechanical observance of Jewish law. We must impress upon all of humanity the importance of balancing human intellect with acts of charity and kindness, with teachings that reflect truth and equality, and with promoting a way of life that protects the human rights of all human beings created in God’s image, without discriminating based on race, color or creed. Repairing the world in the spirit of God, for the good of all of humanity, can only happen through loving our fellow man, protecting their human rights, and performing acts of charity and kindness, for this is the ultimate will of God.”

The words of Rav Yitzhak Yosef are today’s true call to action: “As Jews we must not stay silent. The call must be heard from here: A genocide will not be allowed to go by quietly — not in Syria and not anywhere else, and not against any people.”

Write letters to congress and to the White House (current and future administrations), donate to relief funds, raise awareness in your community.

This is not about being liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. It’s about being human beings. For Jews, its about being Jewish.

Remember when nobody came to our assistance? We have 6 million reminders of that.

As Jews, we must not remain silent.  

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