black and white -- long line of children disembarking a ship
Children of Polish Jews on their arrival in London, Feb. 1939 (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Kindertransport, Syrian children, concern for the stranger

Helping when others would not

I am a Kindertransport survivor. I was sponsored as one of 12 children. Although some of the 12 lost both parents, and undoubtedly there is lasting sadness, we have all had good lives, with careers, families and children. It was crucial for the Kinder to have meaningful relationships and support systems, and many of them did. Unfortunately there were some bad experiences, which Ms. Jennifer Craig-Norton describes (“Drawing lessons about family separation from Kindertransport artifacts,” Feb. 26). In an ideal world, the families could have been rescued, but that was not possible at that time.

The Kindertransport is an example of a country willing to help when others would not. if Syrian children can be rescued with their parents’ consent, that may also save their lives. Again, countries may not be able or willing to sponsor families. We do not live in an ideal world.

Ilse M. Eden

Concern for the stranger

This ongoing Torah-based dialogue in letters between my friend and fellow congregant Mark Cohen and my fellow contrarian Vladimir Kaplan (“The Torah’s way,” April 3) may have a more obvious resolution than either seems to be proposing if we look more closely at Parashat Kedoshim (Holiness.)

To Mark’s point, which emphasizes all Torah mitzvot including concern for the other, we find, “The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the homeborn among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 29:34). However, to Vladimir’s point, which emphasizes the centrality of Israel, which of necessity must include concern for the threats that Israel faces, we find “neither shall thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor” (Lev. 29:16). Thus the Torah seems to be teaching us that both the humane and the defensive are integral to the balanced social order of our tradition.

This balance is not exclusive to Judaism. Sun Tzu, the great Chinese Taoist commentator and military strategist of the sixth century BCE, includes both firmness and compassion in the necessary attributes for leadership. In a translation of “The Art of War” that I read many years ago, he explains that firmness without compassion can deteriorate to tyranny, and compassion without firmness to anarchy.

So let us continue to debate how to pursue both the necessary defense of ourselves, the United States, and that of Israel while maintaining our concern for the stranger; for we were once “strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Steve Astrachan
Pleasant Hill

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