Who exactly is a stranger? The word strange can mean unfamiliar or unexpected, but it can also imply weird or abnormal. Jewish text instructs us to love the stranger, remembering that once we were strangers in Egypt. We will be strangers many times over in our lives: on the first day at a new school or at a new job.
To be a stranger means to be on the outside looking in. It is a lonely place to be, but it should not be permanent. When we get to know a stranger, they are no longer “strange.” When we seek to understand their ways, our world becomes richer for it. That is the gift of the stranger.
Opening our homes and our hearts to the stranger is a core Jewish value, mentioned in the Torah an astonishing 36 times. The famous words at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, the iconic welcome to the United States, come from the Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
In Kar-Ben’s A Bear for Bimi, Evie is excited to welcome the Said family and their son Bimi, who are moving in next door. They have arrived from a faraway country with different customs and language, just like Evie’s grandparents once did in coming to America. The woman living across the street is skeptical of the new neighbors - until their kindness in a moment of need breaks the ice.When Bimi and Evie become friends, the little boy knows he is ”home.” The children’s friendship is what makes the new country home to Bimi, who no longer feels like a stranger.