23/24 August 2019, 22/23 Av 5779

History, as we know, as a way of repeating itself. How can it not?

As the M.S. St. Louis cruised off the coast of Miami in June 1939, its passengers could see the lights of the city glimmering. But the United States hadn’t been on the ship’s original itinerary, and its passengers didn’t have permission to disembark in Florida. As the more than 900 Jewish passengers looked longingly at the twinkling lights, they hoped against hope that they could land. Those hopes would soon be dashed by immigration authorities, sending the ship back to Europe. And then, nearly a third of the passengers on the St. Louis were murdered. Most of the ship’s 937 passengers were Jews trying to escape Nazi Germany.

And so we watch with horror the waters off Lampedusa, Italy. The same island of Lampedusa where that extraordinary fisherman made crosses out of life boats, one of which resides in Pembroke College Chapel, Cambridge.

Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has reluctantly authorised 27 migrant children rescued at sea to disembark from the charity vessel OPEN ARMS anchored in limbo off Lampedusa Island for days.

He agreed to save the ‘alleged’ minors despite it being “divergent to my orientation”. And the remaining 105 adults and 2 accompanying children are to stay on the boat the NGO says is not fit to hold them. They are considering flying them to Spain but their options are limited. Immigration is challenging. We would be naive to believe otherwise, but there are moments when the word ‘No’ is inhumane. Both in stories and in real life. Proactiva Open Arms says the situation is untenable, visiting doctors agreed.

The iconic verse “A human being does not live on bread alone,” found in this week’s portion, Eikev (Deut. 8:3) invites us to think of all in this scenario, those that rescue and those that are rescued.

May a safe solution be found speedily.

Shabbat Shalom


PS. 2 hours ago the boat was ordered to disembark and the refugees allowed to enter Lampedusa. May they and the Islanders find safety and ease.