Welcoming today’s fugitive Arameans

by Rabbi Deborah Bronstein

Every year, Jews around the world read these words from Deuteronomy 26:5:

Arami Oved Avi: My ancestor was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt and resided there in meager numbers and sojourned there, as strangers…

It’s probably not so difficult for many Jews or other new immigrants in our country to say: “my father, my mother, my grandfather, my grandmother was a wandering, frightened, courageous outsider. You and I probably live in close enough proximity to have heard family stories of surviving day to day, barely tolerated at the margins of society, afraid to stick out lest visibility bring down trouble, speaking a language that no one else understood.

Is it not right that we look up from our holy books to notice who the fugitive Arameans are today? I would posit that they are people who are chronically mentally ill. These fugitive Arameans live as many of our families did: at the edges, outside of normative society, anxiety provoking and unwanted. Truth to tell, there are many in our congregations who would just as soon not see these wandering Arameans wander too close – even though they are close. They are our friends, they are sitting beside us, afraid to stick out lest visibility bring down trouble.

Members of congregations often expect members of their places of worship to come to their doors to pray, to learn, to celebrate, to find comfort and companionship. Let us not be places where all are welcome except the “crazy ones.”

Only part of our task is to welcome in and help sustain people who are mentally ill, those who live on the outskirts of society and those who manage to go to work and carry on day by day heavily burdened. May they know that they are truly welcome to walk through our doors. Part of our task is to recognize that too many of us are wandering Arameans, turned away when they are deserving of a place to reside, not alone, not as a stranger, but as one who is a human being created in the image of God.

Rabbi Deborah Bronstein

Interfaith Network on Mental Illness


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.