The word “foreigner” gets bandied around a lot in the news. Often, it’s a term reserved for people from another country, but it’s frequently used to describe anyone who looks or acts differently.
I want to share my own experience with a foreigner in Morgan Hill.
We recently began hosting weekly services at the new Chabad Jewish Center, and I was on my way to set up some chairs and prayer books when a woman flagged me down. I walked over to her and wordlessly, she started sobbing.
After a few minutes she composed herself and explained: she is an Israeli woman in town for a conference. Alone in a strange country and with a limited grasp of the language, she felt out of place. Keeping Shabbat and finding kosher food had been a real challenge for her. And now, out of the blue, she noticed a rabbi walking down the street—and she was overcome with emotion.
Her sense of loneliness—of being a foreigner—had melted away, and over the weekend she joined us for prayers and Shabbat meals, and had a wonderful trip. Although we had never met, she immediately felt at home and included.
In an ideal world, everyone should feel that sense of kinship and belonging, wherever they are.
When I first came to South County, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In my black fedora and jacket, I looked like a foreigner. How would the people around me take that?
In fact, I immediately felt welcome, I felt a sense of belonging. Strangers would come over to me and say hello, neighbors visited to welcome us when we moved in. There is something special in South County: an environment of belonging, of a community that everyone can join.
For that woman, it took finding a rabbi who spoke her language and understood the challenges she was facing to dispel that sense of being a stranger. But each of us can work on making an effort to help “foreigners”—whether from another country or another neighborhood—feel at home.
The Torah tells us (Leviticus 19, 34), “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you …” The stranger shouldn’t just feel welcome to live among you as a foreigner. They should feel so welcome that they are as a native, the Torah urges.
And the Torah reminds us that we know well how it feels to be treated as outsiders, in the land of Egypt, when the locals—afraid of the Jews who looked, spoke and dressed differently—conspired to enslave us, “… and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The next time you see someone walking down the street looking a little lost, or someone new moves into your neighborhood, go out of your way to make them feel not just tolerated, but welcome in our beautiful and inclusive community.
Rabbi Mendel Liberow is the director of Chabad South County Jewish Center in Morgan Hill, which offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programming for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. For information, visit JewishMH.com. Please be in touch with any comments, questions or feedback at [email protected].