A raft washed up to the shore of a marina in south Florida recently. The rickety craft was fashioned from Styrofoam blocks. The posts were oars. The sail was a tarp. A hiker noticed the abandoned raft and reported it to authorities. It was feared that the occupants had perished in a fruitless effort to cross the waters from Cuba to the United States.
This past year alone, over 1,000 people were intercepted while attempting to escape Cuba. They journeyed on a variety of primitive floating devices. No one knows how many other unreported refugees were able to make it safely to America and how many died trying. The fate of those on the deserted raft seemed grim.
Now the mystery has been solved. The occupants of the vessel were rescued by a cruise ship and transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard. They had survived the perilous journey.
What could possibly drive a human being to cast himself into the ocean aboard such a flimsy and unsafe vessel? Why would someone risk his very life to make this voyage?
What is the motivation for such a journey?
The answer is quite compelling.
The desire for freedom is incredibly powerful. A human being who has lost the autonomy to think or speak or work or worship as he wishes has been robbed of his basic human rights. The brutal repression of Cuban-like regimes drains the dignity of life.
The American Jewish community, along with other Jews around the world, annually celebrates Passover, the holiday of freedom. One would think that a nation delivered from slavery would forever be vigilant in guarding this important concern. Unfortunately, Jews often join many other groups in taking liberty for granted.
Life in our time is fast-paced and stressful. We often find ourselves overextended and short of time and grateful for someone else to take the reigns.
We now have authorities that decide how big a drink of soda may be, what insurance we may use and which civil rights are expendable for the sake of the greater good. The concept of a nanny state may be a comforting idea but it is also potentially dangerous and constitutes a slippery slope. When decisions are put into the hands of others, we lose our freedom to decide.
There is a museum in Key West, Florida, that displays some of the floats that made the trip from Cuba to America. Some of these “boats” were found on the waters with passengers intact and some were found on shore, empty. Some are no more than inner tubes lashed together with rope.
The bolseros (Spanish for rafters) were ready to sacrifice their lives for freedom. Perhaps it is time to appreciate this blessing and work and fight for its survival.
About the Author: Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.
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