A friend recently went through a scary time and, as a result, I did, too. His niece in Minnesota, a young mother, simply disappeared. She went out on a date and didn’t come home. Her mother was with the woman’s children. When she didn’t know what to do, she contacted police, the story was in the media and the important, informal networks of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) swung into action.
Like many friends, I tried to pass the word along about a woman who was missing. Her family needed her. My friend couldn’t sleep. He worried. I worried. The worst part seemed to be not knowing how to help, what to do and what happened. Things seemed very dangerous.
Some in the Jewish community may say, this isn’t about me. They would be wrong on several levels. First, and most apparent, your prejudice is showing. There are many Jewish community members who have ties to multiple other communities in Canada. Yes, there are indigenous Jews; as well, there are many other cross-cultural, interreligious and inter-ethnic family connections of which you may not be aware.
Second, anyone can be at risk. Missing people and human trafficking are as old as time. When Joseph’s brothers throw him into a pit and then sell him to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:28), they’re participating in human trafficking and slavery. They turn Joseph into a missing person. His parents go through the anguish of not knowing what happened to their child. If you’re a parent or, heck, if you’ve ever lost a pet, it’s not hard to imagine this anguish.
Rashi’s commentary says that Joseph was sold several times. According to Midrash Tanhuma, he’s sold from the Ishmaelites to the Midianites and, from there, into Egypt. This description is not unlike what happens now to women captured in wartime. News reports offer similar stories of women enslaved today – by Boko Haram or, to mention refugees closer to home, Yazidi women who were enslaved by ISIS, some of whom have found homes in Canada.
Some believe slavery is a thing of the past, tied to faraway, evil people – like the narratives I’ve heard from Canadians about the American South. People might be evil, but they aren’t far away. This is a modern issue. Once a person is being trafficked, it’s very hard to break free. She’s possibly been forcibly confined, addicted to drugs, beaten and sexually assaulted. She may be hidden, unable to get help, and brainwashed by those who kidnapped her.
There are charities that work against human trafficking, and many nongovernmental organizations do, as well. However, I was recently invited to participate in a raffle. The business offered a prize in exchange for donating to an anti-trafficking organization. I got as far as clicking through to the organization’s donation page before I saw that it did its work through a lens of Christian evangelizing. Here’s what I found: “Agape International Missions has an incredible team of staff members and volunteers who faithfully carry out our mission, day in and day out. At AIM, we believe that Christ through His Church will defeat the evil of sex trafficking, so we invite you, the Church, to join us in this fight!”
Further, if you wanted to work for them, and you’re not Christian? Too bad. Here’s what their job search info looked like: “You should consider pursuing a career with AIM if: You’re a Christian; You agree wholeheartedly with our Statement of Faith. As the foundation for all we do, our Christian faith is a uniting factor among volunteers and staff.”
Essentially, this Christian organization uses an “us” versus them narrative, in which this religiously motivated group is all good. They are out to conquer this evil that happens to faraway (non-Christian) others. Sadly, if you change the religious ideology, I’m not sure Jewish communities are much different in how we portray social action issues.
Kidnapping, human trafficking, using sex as a weapon – many people like to think these terrible things don’t happen to “us.” However, this naïve view harms victims, perpetuating the idea that these things only happen to people far away or long ago, or who somehow did something wrong to deserve it.
Joseph, according to Jewish tradition, was our relative, a part of our family. His brothers kidnapped and sold him. My friend’s niece went missing this winter. This isn’t some ancient or distant problem. Some argue that, if Joseph hadn’t been his father’s favourite, or if he’d behaved better, this wouldn’t have happened to him – this is blaming a victim.
In Joseph’s case, he lived. He was found, and he flourished over time, in Egypt. My friend’s niece came home to her mother and children after a week. It’s still unclear what happened to her. It sounds like something like human trafficking may have taken place. We (helpers outside the family) may never know.
Every time a missing person is found safe, it’s lucky – but it’s not a sure thing. Often, many hundreds of people’s efforts go into finding someone, and keeping others safe.
If you’re sent a missing person’s information, don’t judge whether or not the person is “worthy.” Send it onwards. Just imagine if your relative or friend went missing – wouldn’t you want everyone’s help, without judgment or religious prejudice?
Joanne Seiff has written regularly for CBC Manitoba and various Jewish publications. She is the author of three books, including From the Outside In: Jewish Post Columns 2015-2016, a collection of essays available for digital download or as a paperback from Amazon. Check her out on Instagram @yrnspinner or at joanneseiff.blogspot.com.