Of Note: Crafting the HIAS Mosaic

Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Fri, Dec 21, 2007 at 12:29 pm

Throughout last week’s Board activities in New York, I returned time and again to the notion that HIAS is a mosaic of stories, languages and flavors created by the refugees and immigrants we have assisted. As we continue to build our capacity to serve our clients and constituents in the Jewish community and beyond, we can celebrate our rich and diverse history and build on this history to fulfill our organization’s mission for the future.

Hearing from Lucette Lagnado, author of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit and an Egyptian Jew who HIAS assisted in immigrating to the United States, we are reminded of the tens of thousands of Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews who HIAS helped find safe haven in the U.S., Israel, Brazil, and elsewhere. Lucette challenged us to remember the struggles of new immigrants like her father, and to incorporate the stories of the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world into the larger HIAS mosaic. The attached letter from Norm Klinger provides another moving account of the Egyptian Jewish facet of the HIAS story.

We also had the opportunity to appreciate how the exciting HIAS Let My People Go web project – mystory.hias.org – expected to be launched in January 2008, will allow Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union to tell their own stories of migration, and in so doing expand our understanding of HIAS and the American Jewish community’s role in this contemporary Jewish Exodus. This pilot project – and our comprehensive archival program to organize, preserve and disseminate HIAS records – will immeasurably enrich the lives of individual migrants aided by HIAS and deepen the Jewish community’s understanding of the continuum of migration in Jewish history.

The objective of creating unity between the generations of Jews, central to our family history project, archival work and programs to promote the integration of Russian-speaking refugees and immigrants, was highlighted in our visit to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. As NY State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, the first Russian-Jewish refugee elected to state-wide public office, declared, “Our goal is to bring Rabinovich of Moscow and Rabinowitz of New York together.” Thus, the new stories of Rabinovich and the older migration sagas of Rabinowitz together establish the core of HIAS’ identity.

Finally, throughout our meetings we held important discussions on how HIAS could best fulfill our new Strategic Plan’s challenge to put the Jewish imperative of fixing our broken world (Tikkun Olam), into action. In strategizing on how to expand our resources and our commitment to victims of persecution and deprivation from Darfur, Colombia, Iraq, Burma, Mexico and elsewhere, we opened new chapters in our HIAS story and laid the foundation for numerous additions to the ever expanding HIAS mosaic.

With warm wishes for a healthy and happy New Year to you and the entire HIAS family.

Dear Mr. Aronoff:

Thank you for your note. I remember that when I was a little boy living in Alexandria, Egypt, waiting for years to obtain a visa to come to the United States, I saw the acronym HIAS. It was on a package we received. I did not know what it meant. We were on hard times. It meant a lot to us. And it was not just what was in the package that mattered. It was that someone in the outside world cared that mattered more. This gesture, this help meant that we were not alone.

At that time the Arab world was at war with Israel. Two of my brothers were in the Hagana, one in intelligence, the other in the nascent Israeli navy's version of Seabees. The secret police was watching us. They followed me once to try to find one of my other brothers. They didn't.

In 1950 our luck improved and we were able to emigrate to the U.S. America delivered on its promise. Everything was there for the taking, if one only worked for it. I am a lawyer retired from practice but still involved in civic affairs and as an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association. A lot happened in between. It has certainly been interesting and I have had a lifelong avocation of promoting democracy, whether by teaching in college, litigating constitutional issues, running for and holding office or helping organize grassroots organizations.

In the midst of all this I met a lady at a social event a few years ago who happened to mention HIAS. I had not heard that word in half a century. But I had instant recall. And my soul remembered. So, rounding out the circle, I am only too happy to be able at this time to help others who may feel alone and forgotten in some far off oppressive land.

Sincerely, on behalf of Sondra and myself.

Norm Klinger

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