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    Are you going for good? – Mass’ei

    Mass’ei lists the journeys and stopping places of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. It is a chapter in the long history of human migration. It is also an allegory of Jewish history.

    It brings to mind the rousing Gilbert and Sullivan song, “For he is an Englishman”. The lyrics by WS Gilbert suggest that one could have chosen any other nationality – Russian, Prussian, French, Italian, whatever – but decided that being English was the best. Nothing matched up with greatness of the English ethos.

    It’s a shrewd piece of social commentary, but it doesn’t tell the true story. In the history of migration, it hardly ever happened that a person weighed up a range of possible places and peoples and opted for the one they believed to be the best.

    Migration sometimes happened voluntarily, generally for economic reasons. People moved, not because they believed their destination was the best all round but because the opportunities were greater there.

    More often, migration was forced by necessity; in times of persecution people needed an escape, a haven. They had to go where they would be allowed in.

    The question for both types of migrant is, “Are you there for good?” (A cantor I knew left Glasgow for London; someone in Glasgow asked, “Are you going for good?”, and he said, “No – for better!”)

    What happens if a migration is not successful? It is said that the average American moves ten times during their lifetime. People always think the grass will be greener somewhere else. In many cases they would do better to make their peace with where they are and do something for the community there.

    For Jews there is an additional dimension – build a life wherever you are, certainly: but don’t forget that Israel is the place where you are likely to feel fulfilled as a Jew.

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