HIAS, PITTSBURGH, BIRTHRIGHT & THE RULE OF LAW
HOW HIAS HELPED MY FAMILY
My father’s father came to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Czar’s army for a second time. He’d already served in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, and he feared being drafted again for World War I. By 1914, Jacob was married, with two sons. In pursuit of a better life, he left his family in Russia when he sailed to America. His plan was to earn enough money to bring his family to the US. HIAS made this possible.
Jacob worked as a shoemaker in New York City while his wife raised his two boys in Russia. How she managed as a single mother during wartime and through the political upheaval of the Russian Revolution that followed in a country hostile to Jews, I don’t know. I do know that in 1921 she and the two boys boarded a ship in Southampton, England, and sailed to New York. They passed through the immigration station at Ellis Island and were reunited with Jacob. HIAS made this possible.
My father was born in Brooklyn in 1925. He was an American citizen, even though his mother was not. She never became an American citizen, possibly because she couldn’t read. Her husband and Russian-born sons were naturalized. Her American born son enlisted in the US Army and fought in France and Germany during World War II.
TWO RECENT EVENTS
I’m telling this story in response to two recent events: The massacre of eleven Jews worshipping at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last Saturday, and the president’s plan to abolish birthright citizenship by Executive Order for babies born in the United States .
As an American, I’m outraged by the domestic terrorism we are routinely subjected to by white male racists with guns, and I’m disgusted by the current political climate that incites these terrorists while demonizing peaceful foreigners.
As the frequency of domestic terrorism accelerates, I’ve come to expect personal tragedy. This shooting makes it clear that unless something changes, it’s only a matter of time: One of the victims at Tree of Life was a family friend of a friend of mine. Another was a relative of a current student attending my alma mater. That’s just three degrees of separation, and I wonder if each of us will have to suffer the loss of someone even closer before our outrage will shake us from complacency about what’s happening.
Three years ago in Charleston, the victims were African-American. In Pittsburgh, the victims were Jewish. It’s not a big leap to see a theme of racial and ethnic cleansing developing. I’m American born and raised. I’ve experienced more sexism than anti-Semitism, but if people aren’t safe in their place of worship, what guarantees that I will be safe in my home?
BIRTHRIGHT & THE RULE OF LAW
Which brings me to the second reason for telling my family’s immigration story: the political climate of intolerance that the current President of the United States promotes with his inflammatory rhetoric in speeches, in tweets, and now in an attempt to corrupt the rule of law. The President says he’ll use an Executive Order to nullify the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship. What’s at stake here is our very rule of law. This president’s hate-speech is awful and damaging, but his disregard for the U.S. Constitution is much, much, worse. And without adequate checks and balances on this man with a bent for tyranny, he could succeed in filling every court bench with a crony or toady and get away with ending our American democracy.
Am I being alarmist?
I don’t think so.
What’s the least can we do?
My blog, Living in Place, is where I publish my sometimes pointed, sometimes poetic and sometimes irritating essays about the human condition, written to educate and entertain. By subscribing, you will have an essay every week delivered by email, and you will be supporting my independent, non-commercial voice. Thanks.