When my paternal grandmother left the shtetl in Poland with her five very young children, my Zayda was already ensconced in Passaic, New Jersey, paving the way for his family to escape poverty in the s**thole where they lived in a ground floor apartment with a mud floor. My father, then a 5 year old, in 1910, remembered only the floor, the dirt floor, down a few steps, which muddied up in the rain. Not to mention the snow!
My grandmother had not only the five kids but also a grocery to run. I suppose you might call that her career in retail.
Escape to the goldena medina was the dream which was finally coming true if all the plans worked; if they all survived the horrors of the journey, which makes our complaints about international travel and its concomitant indignities seem negligible in comparison. The ship would be no luxury liner with entertainment and lavish buffet meals. Crammed into steerage the family would survive on barely edible food in a cramped and crowded airless cabin, with the little ones vomiting as the miserable craft swayed in the wind.
When they reached the magnificent welcoming arms of the Statue of Liberty, they were almost there. They, the tempest tossed . She would lift her lamp beside the golden door. Good lives would await them. And they did.
In New Jersey they soared to the middle class. They became educated. They became Americans. They lived and birthed American children. There was no nostalgia for the land they had left behind, the s**thole.
Several years earlier, Frederick Drumpf, left Germany. It is unclear as to whether he left to dodge the draft or whether he was ordered to leave because he was a draft dodger. He arrived in America in 1896 where he became owner of restaurants, bars and houses of prostitution in the Pacific Northwest. His businesses made him a wealthy man and the family name was changed to Trump. He, too, had left a s**thole, in Bavaria.
Fast forward to 2018. America. Donald Trump has become the most unlikely president that the United States has ever elected. Alas, he has forgotten his own humble roots. He has embarked on a vicious campaign to keep immigrants from s**tholes to immigrate to America. He has defamed thousands upon thousands of individuals whose only crime is the same yearning that my family and his had, to become Americans.
Trump is no student of history. He is actually no student of anything. He is reported to gather information by watching Fox News on television. Anyone reading the abominable grammar in his infamous tweets can attest to his lackluster education and dreadful use of language. Syntax and spelling are usually woefully inadequate.
Yet, it is this man, this mercenary individual with a very questionable past and very questionable family legacy. who is attempting to determine who is eligible to become American. His criteria are racist and abominable.
It’s up to us, Jews, citizens of the United States and citizens of the world, to raise our voices. Realistically that may accomplish nothing at all. We citizens are pretty much irrelevant. But, at least we will say we’ve tried. Tried and failed perhaps but that is better than going like lambs.
Many of us thought that it couldn’t happen here. Now we know. It can.
Our elected officials are largely inadequate, without honor or stature, honesty or commitment. Yet, we elect these people. It’s time to vote them out. It’s incumbent upon all of us, who see the horror written on the wall, to vote. Voting is our job. That’s where our voices can be heard.
When my father came to this country he never thought, in his almost 98 years, that the impossible would be possible. That hatred would reign. That a hateful and incompetent person could be elected our president. We owe it to my father and to all of those who came from s**tholes, to struggle mightily to reclaim our country.
And for that magnificent statue that greeted my father and so many others, let it not be the time to dismantle her in grief and drop her at the doors to the White House. Let us, better, wipe away her tears and console her and tell her that her days are not numbered and that she will still be needed to welcome the huddled masses yearning to be free.