Last week, I attended a concert at my synagogue by the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, a group of young Palestinians and Israelis who perform music together. In his introduction, my Rabbi explained the purpose of the evening. We were not going to stop a brutal war or bring back hostages from captivity. We would not be able to give respite in a way that mattered and is necessary to Gazans or end the suffering there. That's not what tonight is, he said. I wish it was, but it isn't. Here's what tonight is, tonight is a gigantic middle finger (his words, not mine) to everybody who tells us that there is no way forward together. Tonight is what happens when you take microphones out of the hands of yesterday's leaders and put them in front of today's leaders. Tonight is the only story that we will see 50 or 100 years from now, G-d willing. We're opening doors, and we're opening hearts.

In a way--a less melodious or entertaining way--asylum serves a similar purpose.

I experienced this myself last weekend. The day after Iran launched missiles at Israel, my family and I joined my former Iranian client and his family for dinner. While the Israeli and Iranian governments--seemingly run by idiots for idiots--cause harm and suffering, ordinary people are more than capable of sitting together, enjoying an excellent meal (thank you Sarah and Ali!), and sharing a happy evening.

Perhaps the point is trite: People can get along even when governments cannot. But I have always felt that personal relationships are the building blocks of peace, and so while politicians work hard to put up walls and encourage fear of "the other," regular people continue to make connections that defy these divides.

How does asylum help in that regard?

Probably the most obvious way is that asylum seekers come to our country and integrate into our community. They build personal relationships with neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and friends. Immigrants do this too, but asylum seekers tend to come from more troubled countries; countries that we Americans often view negatively and with suspicion. When we get to know people from such places, they help us expand our horizons. They might also teach us that our negative ideas about certain countries may not be accurate, and that a bad government, or even a government we view as an enemy, does not reflect anything about the people of that country.

To reap these benefits, personal connections are key. I think back to a semester I spent in Israel during college in 1990. At the time, Syria was probably Israel's number one enemy, and as a Jewish American, I viewed Syria with deep suspicion. During my Spring Break, I backpacked with two friends through Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Visiting "the enemy" was a life-changing experience. It's one thing to know in theory that Syrians are human beings, but it's quite another to spend time with them and see for yourself. To quote from one of my favorite songs, about a Christmas truce during the First World War, where German and British soldiers met in no mans land to share some brandy and play soccer: "The walls they kept between us to exact the work of war, had been crumbled and were gone forevermore."

Having contact with asylum seekers also teaches us something about ourselves, if we can summon the humility to listen and to learn. When we know more about "the other," we can better understand their perspectives, and better refine our own views. Also, of course, the more we practice listening to different viewpoints, the better we become at that.

Finally, granting asylum to people in need reflects our national ideals. We protect people who stand up for democracy and freedom, for human rights and women's rights, for LGBT individuals, and for ethnic and religious minorities. If there can be no peace without justice, the asylum system, though imperfectly implemented, represents the manifestation of our commitment to justice and our aspiration to side with those who work for peace.

I recognize that in the end, these human connections are small in comparison to wars between nations. Even so, they are significant. The Palestinians and Israelis in the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, a dinner between two families, an honest conversation between those who disagree. In these ways, we demonstrate that it is possible to move forward together and we help keep hope alive.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: