Al HaMishmar—Jews Must Still Remain On Guard, Says HIAS' New Chair

Posted on Mon, Aug 13, 2007 at 9:51 am

(New York City) – The head of a Boston technology investment firm who was named chair of the board of directors of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, in June – warned in his first address to the board that the American Jewish community must remain Al HaMishmar (on guard) because of ongoing issues around the world.

“In this ever shrinking planet, still sadly engaged in genocide and oppression, HIAS expresses the Jewish value: I am my brother’s keeper,” said Michael Rukin, CEO of Concord Hill Group Trust in Boston. “HIAS means so much to so many people around the world. In its 125-year history, it has resettled more than four million Jews, including my grandparents and father, to lands of safety.”
Excerpts from Mr. Rukin’s remarks, made last week at the international organization’s headquarters here, continue:

“Though the great waves of Jewish emigration are probably behind us, we must be ever vigilant: Al HaMishmar (On Guard). The dangers affecting Jewish survival in Venezuela and in Iran are clearly in front of us. The longer term issues of polarization, resulting from demographic changes, in France and in England, with their implications for Jews, must remain within our vision.

“Though we operate today with a strong and vibrant Jewish homeland, the agenda of the status of olim and of refugees arrived in the State of Israel must also concern us, for we are commanded to be an Or l’goyim (A light unto the nations). The increasing numbers of Sudanese and other Africans who enter Israel by crossing the Sinai border illegally is a dilemma for Israel, but it is not just Israel’s issue. It affects us as Americans and particularly as American Jews.

“Even here in America, we cannot look back. The American Jewish community looks to us as the leading research and advocacy voice for: immigration reform; the extension of benefits to elderly immigrants who we brought here; providing programs of American and Jewish acculturation to those we brought here; and to lead a network of local agencies that are the core fabric of the American Jewish communal structure. So too does the United States government, both the legislative and executive branches, look to us and our Washington office for advice, insights and ideas… and occasionally for less than gentle nudges. Our relationship with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees gives us a unique opportunity to defend Jewish views at council tables which have been too often politicized by anti-Israel interests.

“We may not look back and yet, our history resonates in everything we do. As I write this a member of the HIAS executive staff is in Cairo accompanying Assistant Secretary of State Kelly Ryan, teaching a seminar to U.S. State Department staffers. His role is hardly different from the trip taken to Romania in 1900 by Dr. David Blaustein, then secretary of HIAS, accompanying Robert Watchorn, then commissioner of Ellis Island, to make an on-the-spot evaluation.

“But if these parochial concerns were, alone, the focus of our agenda, alas, we would be ignoring history and a central pillar of our heritage. Isaac Bashevis Singer was once asked: “Do you believe in free will?” His answer: “Of course I do. I have no choice!” We have no choice, in this ever smaller and interdependent world. The history of the Shoah taught us in the words of the German pastor, Martin Niemöller, who retrospectively bemoaned his having been silent as the Nazis arrested the members of differing groups to which he did not belong: ‘And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.’

“Looking forward we must both attend to our core mission and, within the constraints of our fiscal resources, advocate for and act on behalf of the persecuted and the oppressed of all persuasions. We must do it because it is part of our heritage. We must do it because it is good for the Jews. We must do it because our children and grandchildren will measure their attachment to our heritage and its values, based on what we DO, as differentiated from what we say.”

Rukin has been active in local, national and international Jewish organizations for the past three decades, including the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, where he was chairman of the board from 1996 to 1999. He led the effort of the then Council of Jewish Federations to establish Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, whose board of directors he chaired from 1995 to 1998. He has also served on the boards and executive committees of United Jewish Communities, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the Joint Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

An early activist in the Soviet Jewry movement, Rukin served on the boards of the National Conference for Soviet Jewry and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry. In Israel he has chaired the board of overseers of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and served on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He holds a BEE degree from the City College of New York and an MSEE from Northeastern University. He is active in the arts world and collects 20th Century art of Japan. He was the founder and CEO of Analytical Systems Engineering Corporation, a pioneer in the fields of radio navigation and physical security systems.

With offices on five of the world’s continents and headquartered in New York City, HIAS has helped to rescue and resettle more than 4.5 million refugees since it began operations in 1881.