Refugees

The first time I visited Europe I remember feeling that I could easily live here for the rest of my life.  After all, if there wasn’t WWII, my relatives would have never left.  There are the stories of how our Grandparents got to the US and compared to many others they were insanely lucky to get here and get here very early on.

Awhile ago there was an article in the NY Times about a man in Canada who took it on himself to invest millions of dollars in roughly 150 refugees from Syria and bring them to his hometown.  He helped them assimilate, gave them jobs and changed their lives forever.  This has stayed with me and I think about it when conversations around immigrants and refugees take place. What an incredible humanitarian act.

My friend sent me an email about the 60,000 visa holders that has already been heavily vetted by our Government that appear to be in limbo.  Her idea was to get all the people (private citizens) who own planes or have access to them to bring these refugees into our country all on one day.  The already vetted people would just get on the private planes for free and find their lives changed in one fell swoop by coming to America and starting on a new journey.  Of course there has to be more than a plane flight like the guy in Canada did such as helping them find jobs, homes and mentors who could usher them through the challenges of coming to a new land.  It would certainly be a generous gesture and point to embracing diversity as well as providing a helping hand.

British artist Anish Kapoor who recently won the Genesis Prize that includes $1m donated all of it towards the Syrian refugee crisis to expand the efforts of the Jewish community in a global effort to support these people.  The Genesis Prize is known at the “Jewish Nobel” to recognize people who have inspired others with their dedication to the Jewish community.  Like the Canadian, Kapoor is recognizing these refugees and trying to make a difference.  He also just started Hands Off Our Revolution to confront the rise of right-wing populism in the US, Europe and elsewhere through art. Both of these men will be on the right side of history.

Then I read about a documentary called “We Were So Beloved” about the Washington Heights German Jewish community in NYC who escaped or survived the holocaust.  It is Manfred Kirchheimer’s personal documentary.  I have not seen the film but many of these people who survived went on to do great things that made an impact on many when they rebooted their lives in America.  He tells of the immigration laws being changed in 1924 which made the St. Louis ocean liner that had 900 Jewish refugees on it be turned back from Cuba and then the US to return to Germany.  Every single person but one perished on that ship.  I plan on finding this film and watching it.

The one question that Max Frankel asked, who was a childhood friend of Kirchheimer, that we should all be asking ourselves is when you recognize a totalitarian regime or for that matter a leader not doing the humanitarian thing is would you be willing to put your life on the line for decency?

Many people in WWII put their lives on the line to save their Jewish neighbors.  The man in Canada took his own capital to change the lives of others.  As a Canadian he did not have to worry about putting his life on the line. Kapoor is helping fund those in the trenches of helping refugees from Syria.  We helped raised money and awareness by giving money to the ACLU and plan on doing more for other organizations every month.

I am well aware how lucky I am as a white privileged American although Jewish.  My relatives got here.  Not everyone wants to come here but certainly the ones who are living a life of hell in a fascist country do. These people are good hard working people who just want a roof over their heads, food on the table and a safe place to raise their family. Hopefully they will make an impact on the communities around them.  Why should we be turning these people back?  Our nation is a melting pot and we won’t turn that back to something that this administration seems to want or at least his supporters do.  They will all end up on the wrong side of history.  It is painful to watch.  Perhaps I should be looking for those private planes.