Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thoughts of a Libra

In 1933, on the day Hitler became chancellor, my then twelve-year-old father, came home from school to find his mother crying. Already then my grandmother knew the Jews of Germany were doomed and she resolved to take her family to America. That wasn’t an easy resolve. The quota system was firmly in place and the American State Department had no sympathy for Jewish refugees.
It was only after my Great-uncle Jake, a wealthy store owner, turned to his friend, an Oklahoma senator, for help that my father received a visa in 1937. Six months later my Uncle Max was able to follow him and a year later my grandparents with their youngest son, my Uncle Fred, joined their older boys in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Both my father and Uncle Fred eventually moved away but my Uncle Max made Stillwater his home and became a respected citizen known for his philanthropy. No one knows how many donations he made through the years because many of his gifts were given anonymously. He died five years ago and at his funeral there weren’t enough seats for all the mourners. Later, when his will was read, we weren’t surprised to learn that he’d left a generous endowment to the Oklahoma Jewish Federation as well as a substantial scholarship fund for Oklahoma State University. What a loss it would have been for Oklahoma if the State Department had had their way back in 1938.

Many American Jews can share stories such as mine. That is why so many of them are horrified by calls to ban any and all Moslem refugees. There are other Americans, though, who have lost loved ones to the terror war being waged by the Islamic Jihad. They are just as horrified by the idea of bringing potential terrorists into the country. Being a Libra on the Zodiac chart I understand both positions.

My father taught me that not every German was a Nazi and I needed to trust people as individuals. In turn, I tried to teach my children that not every Arab wants to murder us. However, since many do, I forbid them to ever take a ride with one of our Moslem cousins. I urge vigilance and caution.

Fears of bringing in Jews fleeing from Hitler were unrealistic suspicions fueled by anti-Semitism. Worries that Syrian refuges might become terrorists are far more realistic. Back when my father’s family tried to flee the Nazis they were required to have a background check, clean bill of health, and an American sponsor whose background was also carefully scrutinized. That was long before computers were even dreamed of.

Those who demand taking in every single refugee claiming to be fleeing ISIS are being dangerously idealistic. Those who mandate closing the doors to all are being cruelhearted.  Thankfully, the harsh and prejudiced quota system was abolished in 1965. There’s no reason, though, to give carte blanche to everyone who wants to come to America. The country still needs to check out their potential immigrants and judge them as individuals. With all the advances in technology the United States should be able to establish a good and fair system that will keep out the Boston Bombers and let in the Uncle Maxes.   
Ellis Island courtesy of

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