Yom Shishi, 19 Iyyar 5779
Friday, 24 May 2019
Parashat Vayyigash 5776

Rabbi Margaret Jacobi
18th December 2015

Not long ago, I happened to hear on the Radio 4 programme Crossing Continents about immigrants in Poland. ·Apparently Poland has one of the few expanding economies in Europe and so it is now the target for people from other countries seeking work. In a strange reversal of the pattern of a few years ago, when Poles were exiting Poland to seek work elsewhere, including the UK, Poland is now a place to go for work. ·Apart from migrants from neighbouring countries such as the Ukraine, many were coming from Vietnam because of its links with Poland through the communist years. ·The programme told a familiar story of immigrants starting off with little and working long hours in order to provide a future for their children. One Vietnamese family had given their children Polish names as an affirmation of the hope they saw in Poland. They said what mattered was not how hard they worked but that their children would get an education. ·Generations of immigrants, Jewish, Indian, African and of many other nationalities have spoken in the same way, and by hard work have brought their dreams to fulfilment.

Joseph and his family were predecessors of them all. Joseph arrived in Egypt as a result of slave-trafficking, sold by his brothers. ·Now in return he shows them kindness - he saves his brothers and his family from famine and starvation. ·As he says in the message he sends to his father: ‘Come down and stay with me... ·and you shall live in the Land of Goshen, and I shall sustain you, ·for there are still five years of famine - lest you be stricken with poverty.’ ·Joseph’s family become what would now be called economic migrants, moving to another land compelled by famine, and there, by hard work, they prosper. And like migrants of every generation, they bring good to the country they settle in.

This week saw historic agreement in Paris to take action about global warming. ·It is now clear that the global temperature will rise, it is just a question of how much it will rise by - estimates range from 2 - 6C. ·Much depends on what action we take now. ·It is too late to prevent global warming but not too late to prevent the most dire predictions coming true. ·But whatever the degree of warming, there will be devastating consequences for all of us, and above all the poorest countries. ·Subsaharan Africa, already facing appalling poverty, will face worsening drought and famine. ·This is already resulting in huge population movements. ·Most people will go to neighbouring countries, as they do now, filling refugee camps on the borders. ·But many will come to Europe, prepared, in order to scrape a living, ·to live the sort of life of hard work and frugality that few of us would want to face.

Such has been the way throughout history. ·Like Joseph and his family, people faced by famine and starvation have moved in search of food and the ability to scrape a living. ·Ultimately, migrants have been absorbed into the countries they move to and after some generations merged with the local populations so that they create a rich cultural and genetic diversity. ··When waves of immigrants hit our shores, there is scare-mongering, but the immigrants ultimately make a contribution and the new country becomes home for their children.

In the past year, we have seen increasing migration due to conflicts and catastrophes. ·As the global temperature rises the situation is likely to become even more severe. ·But the last thing we should do is blame the migrants. ·For global warming is the result of the carelessness of the industrialised world. ·We have been warned for decades now of the likely consequences of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions but have done very little about it. ··If the people who are now worst affected seek refuge on our shores, then we should realise that it is through our greed that they have been forced to come here. Instead of blaming them, we should give them the sort of welcome that Pharaoh gave to Joseph’s family, realising that they are not a threat, but rather that they can bring us good.

A midrash quoted in our Siddur (p. ·215) teaches: ‘Suppose there are several people in a boat, and one of them takes a drill and starts to bore a hole, and the others protest: “What are you doing?” ·If the one drilling answers: “What business is it of yours, I am only drilling under my own seat?”, surely they will retort: “But it is our business, because when the water comes in, it will sink the boat with all of us in it!”’

The whole earth is our boat. ·We each have responsibility for it and what we do affects people the world over. ·When the boat is flooding, we all have a responsibility to save each other. ·Let us remember that we are all part of a common humanity, and when apparent strangers come to our shores, let us welcome them as our neighbours and help them to feel at home.