M. Greenberg raised a jumble of concerns in a letter last week (“Liberal Activism in Our Schools” September 7, 2023). The most shocking to me was when Greenberg, referring to yeshiva students volunteering with migrants in Arizona, said: “I am guessing some of these kids had great-great-great grandparents who entered the U.S. through legal channels. What an insult to their memory.”
My children are all in yeshivas today. None of them would be alive if their great-great grandfather Jack Silver had not made his way to this country. Before the Shoah, he was a teenager living in Lodz with his family. He knew he had to escape growing antisemitism in Poland and dreamed of fleeing to the U.S. He waited in Belgium for months trying to get proper papers for immigration. After months and without any legitimate papers, he finagled passage to Mexico pretending to be a mattress upholsterer (which he definitely was not). Upon arrival in Vera Cruz, he traveled to the border near Galveston, Texas where he illegally entered this country. With help from HIAS, he traveled to join distant family in Boston. They tightened their belts to house him for a week. Then he was on his own. He was 16.
I do not think it impacts Jack’s honor that he did not get the right paperwork. We are grateful that he made it here alive. All his family, siblings, parents, cousins, perished. Further, Jack went on to get married, start a family, start multiple small businesses, and eventually live to be 98 with seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
It is not an insult to his memory to say that “his life’s great accomplishments and his legacy started when he traveled without paperwork and crossed a national border without authorization.” He did what he had to do to survive.
Today, just as in Jack’s time, refugees fleeing danger will try to come to the safety and opportunity this country offers. We who now enjoy safety and prosperity in this country might consider that we have a greater obligation to love the stranger as ourselves, for we were strangers in Egypt.