Next week, Americans will celebrate the most Jewish of our American holidays: Thanksgiving. Each day in our Amidah, we say the words “Moadim Anachu Lach, we are thankful to you God” for the miracles of each day and God’s wondrous kindness at all times. Perhaps for most Americans, God’s kindness is enough. It surely seems as if so many have forgotten that we are created b’ztelem Eloheim, in God’s image. In the 13 Attributes of God which we recite every holiday, we say that God is rachum v’chanun, gracious and compassionate. Yet, when it comes to the Syrians refugees, we Americans are more and more saying no.
We are a nation of refugees. No one denies that. From the time of the Pilgrims, whose story we are about to remember (I won’t comment on how accurate our memory is), we have welcomed people to our shores. What would happen if we looked at it from the Native American perspective as this cartoon does?
Lech L’cha M’artzicha, u-Mimolot’cha u-MiBeit Avicha
Leave your land, the place you grew up, the house of your father
My own grandparents were refugees. They came on Romanian passports, he in 1923. She came later on the Ile de France leaving out of LeHavre on May 16, 1929. My grandmother did not travel alone, but with two adult daughters and three minor daughters. They all became citizens and the trajectories of their lives were changed. They had two more daughters in NYC. I am the youngest of the youngest.
The United States welcomed them and they thrived. No one says that everyone was happy to see them. Thanks to Facebook, we’ve been learning about how unwanted we were. According to this chart, in 1938 an overwhelming number of college students thought the Jews should not be allowed into the US. In 1939, The US denied entry to the 908 Jewish on the SS St. Louis. The ship was sent back and many of the Jews on it died at the hands of the Nazis. Many countries did not want the Jews.
Yet, in the 20s, my ancestors were admitted, as were so many others. My mother went to City College for free and became a teacher in the New York City school system. I know less about my father’s family. I do know that his father was born in Poland and at some point had a factory in the Bronx. The factory made fabrics which were used in WWII and then was sold to the state to make room for the Cross Bronx Expressway. He did quite well from the United States. My father had a blue collar job that turned into a white collar job. My parents are both enjoying a well funded retirement with savings, social security, and healthcare. Yet, like more and more Americans, they are not welcoming to the Syrian refugees.
Everything we are, I am, is due to the the United States. And it’s not like we came here and were freeloaders. We have given back. My brothers and I all have college and advanced degrees. My five nieces are all college graduates who either have professional jobs or a still continuing this process. None of this would be possible without their having come to the US.
As a kid, I took the usual school trip to the Statue of Liberty. This was the first of many trips and I often see the statue when I am downtown or watching a ballgame from the new park in Staten Island. I always smile when I see that statue. When I take the Staten Island Ferry, which I do at least a few times each year, I often think of what my grandparents must have thought when they saw this sight for the first time. Do we no longer believe the words of Emma Lazarus, “Give us your tired, your poor, yearning to be free?” I hear politicians say that the refugees can come if they prove they are a certain religion. What they really mean is, can the refugees prove that they aren’t Muslim? I don’t remember Emma Lazarus suggesting that the “tired and poor” seeking freedom be of a certain religion or color. After all, she was Jewish.
As we sit down with our family and friends next week, I hope that we think about those who do not have a table to sit at or a belly that will be filled. I hope we act like Abram and Sarai (Genesis 28) who upon seeing three strangers at their door, fed them.
And for those who say that the Syrians do not have guns pointed at them like the Jews did, please watch this: