Open your eyes.
These are the three essential teachings that Sasha Chanoff brought to a crowd of close to fifty people at last week’s Allen J. Worters Lecture. Mesmerizing us with his chilling tale of making a life-or-death moral choice in war-torn Congo, Sasha inspired the group by describing the work of RefugePoint, the refugee resettlement organization that he founded in 2005.
In his book, From Crisis to Calling: Finding your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions, Sasha and his father demonstrate how we can respond as Sasha did, by opening our eyes to the problems — and solutions — right in front of us.
Like Hagar in last week’s Torah portion, he opened his eyes in a time of great despair and discovered — like the well of water in front of Hagar — a way to help resettle refugees.
By knowing himself and listening to the truth inside of him, Sasha took courage and made a decision that saved lives.
I urge you to learn more about the refugee crisis and about the work of RefugePoint.
You can purchase Sasha’s book, From Crisis to Calling: Finding your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions, at Sasha’s site.
Below you will find the poem by African writer Chinua Achebe that I offered in my opening remarks on Friday night. The poem tells a story that does not need to end in death. We have the power to take action, even a small action, to save the life of a refugee mother and child. We must heed the commandment, “Do not despair!”
No Madonna and Child could touch
Her tenderness for a son
She soon would have to forget. . . .
The air was heavy with odors of diarrhea,
Of unwashed children with washed-out ribs
And dried-up bottoms waddling in labored steps
Behind blown-empty bellies. Other mothers there
Had long ceased to care, but not this one:
She held a ghost-smile between her teeth,
And in her eyes the memory
Of a mother’s pride. . . . She had bathed him
And rubbed him down with bare palms.
She took from their bundle of possessions
A broken comb and combed
The rust-colored hair left on his skull
And then—humming in her eyes—began carefully to part it.
In their former life this was perhaps
A little daily act of no consequence
Before his breakfast and school; now she did it
Like putting flowers on a tiny grave.