Because We Were Strangers

Because We Were Strangers graphic with three people holding hands under a heart

In 37 places in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), we are reminded to love strangers because we were once strangers in a strange land. In fact, the phrase כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם (ki-gerim hayitem, “Because you were strangers”) appears in the Torah more frequently than any other.

By reminding the Jewish people multiple times in multiple contexts that “we were strangers,” we create a sense of empathy that the “stranger” may not be so strange to us after all. And in building empathy in each person, we can create a community that cares for others, even those we have not met. And in creating that community among the adults, we can pass the values of tzedek (justice), chesed (kindness), and hodaya (thankfulness) on to our children.

On Thanksgiving, and every day, I hope you will talk with your children about the concept of “because you were strangers” and how that can influence our decisions today. To start the conversation, I recommend reading these books together: Give Thanks by Naomi Shulman, Bagels from Benny by Aubrey Davis, and Rivka’s First Thanksgiving by Elsa Okon Rael. Perhaps these conversations will inspire your family to donate, write letters to elected officials, or participate in some of the many volunteer opportunities this season, and connect these ancient words to our modern world.

I hope you will help us celebrate the season with care and love.

In gratitude,

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