Bilha Chesner Fish
Israeli immigrant, author, radiologist

Shavuot: Remembering Ruth and other outsiders

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

As we prepare to celebrate Shavuot and read the Story of Ruth, I am hopeful that the nearly 5 million DREAMers eligible for residence in the United States will, like Ruth, be welcomed and find acceptance in a new home.

Both the USA and Israel have long been considered safe havens to refugees and immigrants. Countless lives have been saved before and after World War II.

But the immigrant crisis that has affected the world in the past few years tells a different story. There is xenophobia, cruelty toward refugees, families being separated at the southern border of the United States, and DREAMers who are living with uncertainty and the fear of deportation.

The American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, introduced to Congress in March, would provide temporary protected status, deferred enforced departure, and permanent residence for people worried about being deported to countries they don’t remember or where they escaped hunger and death.

Ruth, too, was an outsider who faced starvation and isolation in her native land of Moab after her husband died. She decided to accompany Naomi, her Israelite mother-in-law, also a widow, to Bethlehem.

“Do not entreat me to leave you to turn back and not to follow you. For wherever you will go, I will go. Wherever you will lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your god my god.” (Ruth 1:16)

When they arrived, they met the wealthy landowner Boaz, who was touched by Ruth’s kindness and dedication to Naomi. He allowed Ruth to add some of his harvest to the leftovers she gathered. Boaz provided work and safety for the women, and married Ruth. Their son, Obed, was King David’s grandfather.

Like Ruth, many of today’s immigrants have been incredibly brave in the face of the unknown. Their sacrifices during the pandemic, working on the front lines in many industries, have allowed our communities to stay strong.

It is time for us to show them compassion and kindness and no longer treat them as “the other.”

Many of the 21 American immigrants I interviewed for my new book, “Invincible Women,” have life stories that echo Ruth’s. They came to this country alone or with their parents. They escaped atrocities and dictatorships, sexual discrimination and poverty.

Jacqueline Murekatete was 9 when she awoke to fine the genocide had spread to her Rwandan village. She spent months in hiding, smuggled from one safe spot to another, and eventually learned her entire family perished. Today she is a lawyer, human rights advocate, and founder of the New York-based Genocide Survivors Foundation.

Internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende fled a coup in Chile at the age of 31 to find refuge in Venezuela. Now she lives in California, one of the greatest Latin American writers with more than 23 published books.

And Doris Schechter, restaurateur, philanthropist, and filmmaker, arrived in New York with her parents in 1944, leaving behind their home in Austria and the people who sheltered them in Italy as the Holocaust ravaged Europe.

Without Jacqueline, Isabel, and Doris, and the other amazing women I talked to, our neighborhoods — the world — would be less rich. Without these immigrants, we would have fewer scientists, artists, economists, teachers, doctors, and entrepreneurs.

They persevered, like Ruth. They believed that nowhere else would they have been given the opportunity to succeed but in their adopted country.

I can identify fully. I long for my birth country, Israel, and I am grateful to the United States, where I became a successful physician and raised my family.

I am optimistic that the future will be brighter. Finding a safe new home should be possible for all.

About the Author
Bilha Chesner Fish, MD, is an Israeli immigrant and distinguished radiologist. She journeyed from Israel to medical school in Italy, to New York City's most esteemed hospitals, and to Long Island, where she founded Manhasset Diagnostic Imaging and Pathways Women's Health. A longtime advocate for community service and women's empowerment, Dr. Fish's first book, "Invincible Women: Conversations with 21 Inspiring and Successful American Immigrants," (2020, Hybrid Global), aligns with her commitment to stand up to hate, racism, and fear born of misinformation. She holds master's degrees in studio art and art history and is a member of the Women's Forum of New York, which champions leadership, empowerment, and education for women. Dr. Fish lives in New York City and Sag Harbor, New York.
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