This is a response to the Jewish Link’s publication of the JNS article, “This Is Not Your Bubby’s Immigrant Aid Society,” (March 17, 2016). The Torah reiterates, no less than 36 times, versions of the commandment to love the stranger as ourselves, for we know the heart of a stranger, as we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. The Exodus narrative is not just about the suffering and flight of the Jews, but it delivers a universal message about Jewish commitment to human rights and refugee protection.
HIAS was established 135 years ago to protect refugees—Jewish ones—who were fleeing the pogroms of Czarist Russia. HIAS, which always refers to itself as the “global Jewish non-profit that protects refugees,” is not searching for a new mission. We remain true to the original one of refugee protection. What HIAS has done is moved from its “Exodus” period of our first 120 years, in which HIAS focused on bringing Jews from oppression to freedom, to our “Leviticus” period, in which we fulfill Jewish values and assist refugees of all faiths and ethnicities based on our own Exodus experiences.
The changes to HIAS’s work are not just theologically motivated. They are based on the lessons of history, especially from the Holocaust period when HIAS, the Jewish community and the world failed to protect the six million Jews who perished. The evolution of HIAS is about fulfilling our community’s promise that never again will we permit anything like the Holocaust to happen. What is the most effective strategy for doing this? By acting only when Jewish refugees are in danger, or by constantly advocating for the universal protection of all refugees? HIAS has chosen the latter path.
One reason we failed during the Shoah was that, at that time, the world had no internationally recognized right to flee and seek refuge. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol—heavily advocated by the Jewish community, Israel and HIAS—now provide us with the principles to help ensure that never again will refugees be pushed back into the hands of their persecutors.
We cannot protect ourselves by being only for ourselves. We can only protect ourselves by protecting and implementing universal principles of human rights.
In Washington and in meetings convened by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, HIAS advocates for the US government and the international community to respect the principles of refugee protection that arose from the ashes of the Holocaust. HIAS is already working on five continents to protect refugees of all faiths who have fled ethnic cleansing and other forms of persecution. In addition, we resettle 3,500 refugees each year through our US network, primarily consisting of Jewish Family Service agencies. These partners, like HIAS, have decided to continue programs welcoming refugees even though most refugees whom they now resettle are not Jewish.
And, as you should expect, when there are refugees who are Jewish, HIAS is still there to make sure they receive help. This year, HIAS continues to bring Jews from Iran, the Middle East, Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union to safety and freedom.
With the largest number of refugees and displaced persons since the Second World War, HIAS’s mission is as relevant as ever. In 1881, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was established to help refugees find welcome, safety and freedom. HIAS has not strayed from that path. Today, HIAS does not help refugees because they are Jewish. HIAS helps refugees because we are Jewish.
Our bubbes would be proud.
President and CEO of HIAS
We’re Not Sure ‘Gruber’ Is a Verb, at Least Not in English
Recently, David Gruber, a member of the Teaneck Board of Education, decided to personally attack a number of our council members. Mr. Gruber, while stating his comments were his own and not those of the Board of Ed, failed to mention that he has an ethical conflict as his own brother is running for the Council.
Teaneck was already Grubered once with David Gruber’s poor leadership and representation on the Board of Education. We are saddled at the Board of Education with some of the highest spending in the state, with an obstructionist that doesn’t work well with anyone, misses meetings, doesn’t support busing and has tried to hurt the education of our students. Do you feel he has helped our tax burden at all?
Now we have his brother, Stephen, running for Council. As per an article in the Teaneck Suburbanite on March 8 (“Seven Candidates to Compete for Three Teaneck Council Seats”), Stephen Gruber’s unique contributions to Teaneck are noted as “Gruber, whose brother, David, is a Teaneck Board of Education trustee, has been attending council meetings for about a year. He runs a Facebook group and website called “Teaneck: End The Madness.”
Many in Teaneck have shared with me that Stephen’s comments at council meetings and posts on his Facebook group have shamed and embarrassed us.
One Gruber is bad enough...do we really need another one?