I’m Grateful the United States Let Us In

November is time for gratitude in the United States. Yet after the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month, the United States of America is divided about whether or not to let suffering war-torn Syrian refugees into the country. Some Americans fear refugees are hidden agents of ISIS or Daesh as the terrorist group is coming to be known.

The whole conversation sickens me, in large part because the very nature of it goes against the very fiber of this country. So let me proclaim my gratitude this month for the Americans who let my Jewish relatives into the country, refugees of antisemitism in the 19th century and war-torn Nazi Germany.

Most of my ancestors came from Germany and Russia in the 19th century to escape anti-semitism. While conditions were better, they met milder forms of anti-semitism in the United States. My father’s ancestors changed their names from Lowenstein to Livingston to mitigate some of the bigotry they experienced.

One relative decided to fight back. Sigmund Livingston formed the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, which now is simply the Anti-Defamation League, a cause that fights for tolerance of all races and religions.

Later, the last group of my lineage left Switzerland at the feet of the Nazi army, which was granted access to cross the Alps and invade Italy. Though Switzerland was neutral, officials could not guarantee my ancestors’ safety. My grandfather and his brother and sister — the Bigars — were told to flee Lausanne and they did, barely escaping Venice on a boat hours before the Nazis arrived. They made their way to New York with nothing, and started their lives anew.

Freedom Starts at Home

Iwo Jima Blog Version

When you consider the ancestry of most Americans, they, too, were refugees. Whether rebels or slaves, by choice or by force, they ended up here. Thanks to the U.S. Constitution, their descendants have an open opportunity to build better lives here, the so-called American Dream.

Watching politicians engage in every activity possible to deny access to Syrian refugees makes me question that dream. This great prejudice, bigotry if you would, is perhaps one of the greatest exercises in hypocrisy Americans could engage in. For while “Je suis Paris” may be true, so is “We are Syrians.” Almost all of us are descendants of refugees of some sort.

Consider Daesh’s primary proaganda in fighting Western powers is to combat the western enslavement and abuse of Islamic peoples. Daesh, while an acronymn that literally translates ISIS in the Arabic tongue, is a word in its own right (rather than an acronym) meaning ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others.’ So now we have American conservative bigots supporting the Deash bigots’ logic and their justification to enact atrocious acts of terror.

Perhaps Thanksgiving 2015 is a time to consider what this country still believes in. I hope it remains freedom and tolerance. If so, this outbreak of fear-driven racism should pass. We should embrace Syrian refugees and help them stand up and find a path to a more prosperous life in the United States.

After all, freedom begins at home. If we can’t practice the principles we espouse to the world in the United States, then being “American” stands for nothing but hypocrisy. Our brand of freedom should not be a condition of race, creed, or belief. And for that reason alone we should allow screened Syrian refugees to relocate here in America.

Thank you to all of our ancestors, those that left their homes for a better life in America and those that embraced the refugees of yesteryear, helping them find their way. I am grateful for what you built. I hope this generation continues those principles.

No Turkey For You

Today is the first day of Hannukah. This year the holiday coincides with Thanksgiving creating Thanksgivukkah, a bizarre calendar occurance combining turkey and latkes. We will be having fun all week, including a viewing of Soleil’s much anticipated movie of the season, Frozen. This year I feel more fortunate than others because I don’t have to work tomorrow.

That’s right. Many retailers are opening tomorrow to give stuffed families the opportunity to walk off their tryptophan induced comas in the store aisles.

Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it?

It seems sacriligous. Thanksgiving is one of those special holidays that everybody is supposed to take off, and enjoy time with their families and enjoy a sense of gratitude. Many are so grateful that they take the day to serve those less fortunate, the ones without homes and loved ones.

So what if 2013 has a short holiday shopping season? Are we really going to collectively make people work for a few extra toys, sweaters and socks?

Some retailers are receiving negative backlash for opening on Thanksgiving. One petition directed at Target has almost 100,000 signatures.

But most turkey-blind retailers will be rewarded. “An estimated 33 million people, or 23 percent of those surveyed by the retail federation, say Thanksgiving will find them in stores at some point,” according to this USA Today article. And that’s unfortunate.

Like everything in a consumer society, when a minority group of people with money act businesses respond. The majority sit it out peacefully at home watching football, playing with their family, or sleeping it off. Culture and tradition be damned.

How many days are left where we don’t actively encourage work or shopping in the United States? Christmas? July 4th? New Years? Is that it?

It’s a shame. Double pay or not, I feel genuine empathy for those that won’t eat a turkey meal because they had to man aisle 9 on Thanksgiving Day, 2013.

What do you think of selling stocking stuffers instead of eating turkey stuffing on Thanksgiving?

Image by Pete D.