In this week’s newspaper, one story caught our eye for its humanitarian — not to mention ironic — nature. The Israeli aid organization IsraAid has provided almost $100,000 in nutritional and hygienic assistance to refugees displaced by the Syrian civil war.
The humanitarian dimension of this aid is self-evident. The ironic dimension is perfectly illustrated by the fact that the Israeli aid workers and their Jordanian counterparts find it necessary to remove the word “Jewish” from the aid packages. The recipients, after all, are Syrians, which is to say enemies of Israel.
They are not like the thousands of Haitians, Filipinos, Peruvians, Sri Lankans, Somalians, Japanese and even Americans (victims of Hurricane Sandy, the Oklahoma tornado and Boulder floods) whom IsraAid has helped in recent years. They are citizens of an Arab state that has been in a state of war with Israel since it was born. They may be dedicated enemies of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad, but they may also be dedicated foes of Israel.
So much so that aid workers don’t wish to upset them by allowing Jewish or Israeli symbols on the aid supplies, lest “everything starts to blow up” in the refugee camps.
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We can think of no nobler example of selflessness, of true tzedakah, of human compassion than this latest of IsraAid’s operations.
There will be no thank you to Israel from the recipients of this aid, no testimonial dinners attesting to the kindness of Syria’s neighbor to the south. There will, in all likelihood, not even be a silent awareness of Israel’s role in helping bring relief to these displaced people.
One can, if one wishes, ponder the Israeli motives in providing such aid. Is it to gain political advantage, or curry some sort of favor with whatever rebel group eventually prevails in the Syrian conflict? Not likely, considering that the Syrians won’t even know who their benefactor was. Is it to do a mitzvah? Perhaps, but only in a limited sense. Helping the victims of a brutal leader does “repair the world” in a small measure, but does not defeat the dictator.
Getting closer to the mark is the biblical injunction for Jews to show kindness to the stranger, “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt” — even when the strangers might be enemies.
In these Syrian refugee camps, IsraAid’s actions show that it need have no hidden agenda, no political or financial motive, to aid the suffering. No reward — not even a word of thanks — is expected. Nonetheless, we do thank them, and bless them, for showing the rest of us the right way.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News