By Laura Seymour
Parents, grandparents, teachers and all of us who work and live with children are concerned about teaching many things to our children. One important area is how we treat others. We want our children to have friends, and to have a friend you must be a friend. Making friends is easy for some and very hard for others. We are often dismayed about how our children treat the “new” kid. Today it is a challenge to talk about this issue because of the mixed messages we send when we talk about strangers. Perhaps you can use some of these ideas in talking, particularly with older children, about welcoming.
The “Jewish value” is called v’ahavtem et hager — we love the stranger! “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20). The Torah tells us 36 times to love the stranger and reminds us that we were strangers in the land of Egypt. This repetition tells us how central this concept is to us — it is an essential commandment that tells us how to treat all people. The reminder that we were strangers helps us put ourselves in the place of others.
Here are three texts from the Book of Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 10:19: “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:17-18: “For the Lord your G-d is G-d supreme … befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing.”
Deuteronomy 24:22: “Always remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment.”
Beginning in the Book of Genesis, Abraham is “warned” that his people will be slaves. It is in Exodus when we leave Egypt that we are reminded over and over not to forget being a slave. Why do you think G-d put our people into that situation? Is it necessary to experience something to be able to understand it? Talk about a time when you felt like a stranger or felt different from others. What did you learn from the experience? Can you learn something from a bad experience? At Passover, we are told to remember that we were slaves. We can recall something only if it happened, but we weren’t living back then. How can we be mindful of it?
There are many ways for us to feel like a stranger. Sometimes being the “new kid” reminds us of how nervous the stranger is, waiting for someone to come over and just say hello. What can you do to make someone new feel welcome? Another way to feel like a stranger is when you are different, perhaps looking different or speaking another language or having a special need. When we befriend someone, we learn that they are more like us than different from us.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
By Laura Seymour