My family has Jewish heritage, and life in the Soviet Union wasn’t great for us. I don’t remember it, because I was too young when we left, but my parents told me how it was. My mom couldn’t follow her dream to be a lawyer because of her race; food was scarce at times; you couldn’t trust the people around you. Despite the challenges of having to learn a new language and culture, of having to make a new life from literally ~$300 and a suitcase each, of leaving loved ones behind, and of expecting another child (my mother was pregnant at that moment), my family decided to leave. That was how bad it was.
We left the Soviet Union right as it was collapsing to go to Israel. We didn’t speak Hebrew, and we weren’t religious, but because of our Jewish blood, Israel took us in. Three years later, the US accepted us thanks to my dad’s then-boss, who sponsored a visa for my dad to be able to come for work. We got citizenship in the US as fast as we could, but it still took forever (~10 years), because of constantly shifting laws and bureaucracy. Since then, I have felt like whatever happened in the past could stay in the past. Since then, I have known peace, comfort, and acceptance. I became an American, and I have always been proud to correct people when they tried to say that I was anything else. I will always be grateful to my parents for facing that terrifying unknown, in order to make a better life.
I’m afraid of what is happening in the US and the world today, because it resembles what happened in past decades. I have to believe that many of us in the US– most of us, in fact– are better than this, because otherwise I will give in to lament, and eventually, to apathy. I think that we can still turn this around. I don’t have the proper words to express my feelings, so I hope you’ll forgive me for asking the poets of the ages to come to my rescue.
From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum :
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
Inscribed on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
–Emma Lazarus (1849–1887)