L’shanah Tovah. May G-d bless you with a sweet new year and write you in the Book of Life for health, prosperity and peace.
Monday is Rosh Hashanah. It and Yom Kippur, 10 days later, are the most holy days in the Jewish calendar. They are also the only days that many Jews attend a synagogue. Therefore, the rabbis work hard to write and give meaningful sermons, often linking the portions of the Torah read on those days with current events and world problems.
I don’t know what the rabbis will be coming up with this year, but the world problem that’s been in front of everyone’s eyes recently is the Syrian refugee crisis. And behind that sits big questions about migration. There are also questions about peace, governance, education, international aid…
But I’m interested in the issue of migration. This is a transport blog after all.
First, I would like to put forward the theory that humans are a migratory species. For tens of thousands of years of pre-history, our ancestors roamed over distances difficult to conceive of considering that their own bodies provided their only form of locomotion. Seasonally and across generations following food sources and climate changes, our species spread across the globe.
For thousands of years of recorded history, the movement continued. Mechanical, wheeled vehicles pulled by domesticated herbivores and a variety of boats made travel faster for some and more places accessible for others, but most probably still walked. And although there were settled communities and cities, many peoples were still nomadic, travelling for food and livelihood, pilgrimage and conquest. Many more were like today’s migrants, fleeing war or oppression or famine or all three. Indeed, as well as the regular movement of those who travel for economic or lifestyle reasons, such mass migration is much a hallmark of our modern world as it was of our ancestors.
Now, I can’t think of an immediate link between the high holy day Torah portions and my premise of migration being a constant, rather than the exception, in human life. But I can think of many biblical examples of migration.
Abraham, the first patriarch, was told to Go Forth, become a migrant, and seek opportunity in a promised land. Later in Genesis, Jacob and his sons migrate to Egypt to escape famine. The tribes of Israel grow and multiply in a ‘foreign’ land until they migrate again in the Exodus, this time escaping oppression and slavery.
Were the tribes of Israel ‘strangers in the land of Egypt’ or were they simply immigrants, then residents, until they became migrants again? Genesis tells us that when Joseph held power in Egypt, the Hebrews lived free and peaceful lives there. Today’s migrants can likewise become free, peaceful residents of countries around the world.
Whether their stay is temporary or permanent, we should realise that their decision to move, to migrate, is not only easy to understand, but also a natural, even primal instinct. This instinct overcomes the ever more bureaucratic and physical barriers to migration that nation-states create, so why create them?
Thus, my holy day message is this: Let’s not fight migration, but embrace it. Let’s use all the increased knowledge, means and capability of transport we now have at our disposal to do good deeds. Let us especially help people migrate who cannot have health, prosperity or peace where they are, that they may find it elsewhere. Let us give migrants their chance to be written in the Book of Life for the New Year too.