Off the Pulpit: Welcoming The Stranger


Billy Wilder, legendary Hollywood writer and director of such classics as “Sunset Boulevard” and “Some Like it Hot” was a refugee who left Germany for Paris as the Nazi party gained power.

He made it briefly to America but had to leave and reapply. Wilder told the story of coming to the American Counsel in Mexico, desperate to return to the U.S.

Wilder knew that many waited for years, others were never admitted. He was terrified. He explained that he had almost no documentation because it was all left behind.

The Counsel asked him, “What do you do?”

“I write movies,” said Wilder.

“Is that so?” said the counsel. They stared at each other for a long time.

Finally, the Counsel stamped his passport and said, “Write some good ones.”

He did.

In a thousand small acts, an individual shows his heart and a nation shows its character. In a world that is driven by fear, many open hands have closed into a fist. Let us remember how important it is to also believe in the possibility of goodness and the power of welcoming the stranger.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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