Tag Archives: Immigration to USA

What I Think About on The 2016 Fourth of July

4 Jul

I am a fortunate person. My paternal great grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1880s, and my maternal grandparents arrived in the early 1920s, before the Immigration Act of 1924 severely limited immigration and imposed a strict quota system. It was a bigoted act designed to limit immigration of Africans as well as Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans.   It actually banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians.   It was due to this horrible act that so many Jewish people trying to escape Nazi Germany were banned from entering the United States and were murdered.

Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed and enacted on June 30, 1968, just in time for a Fourth of July celebration. It ended the strict limits of the quota systems and allowed preference visa categories that took into account an immigrant who had family members who were citizens, as well as an immigrant’s special skills.

Think of what this act might have meant for tens of thousands of Jews stuck in Europe. In my own family, the 1924 act caused the death of my grandfather’s family. He was able to get Visa’s for his parents, but not for his siblings. His parents refused to leave. And so everyone perished in the Holocaust.   My grandmother was able to get a visa for her father and younger sister, but not her brothers. Fortunately they survived.

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the total immigration allowed and the number of visas from the 1965 law. But also in the 1990s other laws were passed to make it more difficult for legal and illegal immigrants adding reasons for deportations, according to a Wikipedia article on “The Laws Concerning Immigration.”

But the world changed on September 11, 2001, and along with it views on immigration. People got scared. We began to allow fear to rule the country. And if we do that, we let the terrorist win through fear. That is what they want.

We seemed to have gone back to the ways of the 1920s, when the white men in power seemed so afraid of those that were different. Many restrictive laws were enacted before women had the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was only ratified on August 18, 1920. At first many women did not vote. It took time for women to stand up and have their voices heard.

I cannot prove that having women’s votes changed the direction of the United States, but I believe that women voters have influenced many aspects of life in the USA.

The fact that we now have three women on the Supreme Court has made a difference. The fact that we have women in office on all levels of government: local, state, national, has made a difference. The fact that we have had women running for the two highest offices in the USA: vice president and president, has made a difference.

I am so proud and glad to be a citizen of the United States of America. I am so glad that my ancestors made the journey to the USA in times that were so difficult and were allowed to settle here and become citizens.

I hope that we all remember what is written in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

We must not let fear of the other make us forget that the United States was founded by the ‘other.’ Everyone who signed the original Declaration of Independence was the descendant of an immigrant. We were not perfect. The treatment of the Native Americans and slave ownership was not right. But the founders did their best with the information they had. The Constitution helped them make changes to reflect the society. Slavery ended, women got the right to vote.

With the death of Elie Wiesel, we must remember his words as he reminded us of the Shoah and our responsibility to keep another one from happening: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And we must side with the victim. We are a country founded by people searching for religious freedom, searching for a place to live with freedoms and the rights to be as equal as anyone else.

This Fourth of July, we must not give in to fear and hatred. We must protect those fleeing from war. We must not become a bigoted, hateful country. We must remain the defender of the victim. That is the heritage I want to rejoice on this July Fourth.


Holding My Grandparent’s Naturalization Papers Overwhelms Me

23 May


imageI have a small leather case that is inscribed with the words Certificate of Citizenship.  Enclosed are my grandparents naturalization papers that change them from immigrants to citizens.

I hold the papers in my hands and I wonder what my grandparents were thinking. Here are the legal documents that made them naturalized citizens of the United States of America. They were no longer Polish citizens. They were free of the past, or were they?


One paper is 84 years old.   My Grandmother became an American in 1932. She was 27 years old. I know she had just returned from a trip to Europe to regain her health and see her family and my grandfather’s family. She took her two small children, my mother and my uncle, with her for six months in Poland. And then she came home, a changed woman with a mission. Get as many family members out of Europe as possible.   Grandma was smart. She saw the coming tide of Hitler and his anti-Semitism. What would she think now with the new rise of hatred and xenophobia throughout the world?

The seal encompasses her photo. Her certificate has a small burn in it. The paper was folded when it happened. I can see my grandfather smoking a cigarette with an ash hanging off as it falls on the papers. I know my grandmother must have been furious. It looks like that type of burn to me. I am glad that my children have never seen a cigarette burn. When my father and grandfather smoked, papers often got singed.   But by the time my children were born, there were no more smokers in my family.

There on her paper is a space for Race. It says Hebrew. I wonder if she worried about that word on her papers? They were not yet putting yellow stars on Jews when she was in Europe. Even though she was worried, perhaps, being here made her feel safe enough. The good news is that 11 years later, when my grandfather became a citizen, there was no longer a space for Race. This item was removed from the naturalization papers. It makes me happy to see this change.


I wonder why Grandpa waited so long? He came to the USA in 1920. Did he originally think he would go back one day? Maybe. But the war probably changed his mind. He became a citizen in the midst of World War II — the war that destroyed his family. The war that murdered his parents and his siblings, his nieces and his nephews, his aunts and uncles, his cousins and his friends. Almost all perished. He did not yet officially know this in 1943. But perhaps he knew, since all letters stopped coming and there was no more contact with his family. It was not till after the war that he knew they had all died.

On this paper I see my grandparents’ signatures. I usually did not see it. To me Grandma only signed all letters Love, Grandma Thelma. Grandpa never wrote letters. In his later years, he forgot how to write his name in English. He only remembered how to write it in Hebrew. But here I see his signature. It gives me a thrill to see these names on these certificates.


On the back of Grandpa’s certificate of naturalization is an additional note. It was when he became an official citizen that he legally changed his name from Nisson to Nathan. He put away his Yiddish/Hebrew name and moved to an English name. This is the name I gave my son. Nissan, Nathan. He was born 11 months after Grandpa died. It seemed right that he should have his name.

By the time Grandpa became a citizen they had moved to the home they lived in for over 30 years. This was the location of their bakery in West New York, New Jersey. A home and a bakery where I spent many hours and enjoyed so much love. The same address where I spent the first three years of my life. Where my parents spent the first six years of their married life.

When I hold my grandparents’ citizenship papers I am overwhelmed. Because they moved here and left their homes when they were so young, 18 and 16, I am alive. Because they made a conscious choice my children have freedom. Because they were able to immigrate to the United States, we live in freedom.

I hope the United States will continue to be a beacon of light to immigrants throughout the world, as it was for my grandparents.











How World War I Saved My Family or My Grandpa Was A Draft Dodger

25 Jun

World War I changed the world! One hundred years ago, Europe became a place of desolation and devastation. Young men from both sides were killed. Millions perished. From all I have read, it was horrible. The use of gases so horrific that laws were later passed banning the use of these and all future chemical weapons. We know that sometimes they are still used. But the world peoples are united against them.

For my family, World War I actually saved my branch of a family. My Grandpa Nat, you see, was a draft dodger.   As he would explain it to me, Jews in Galicia did not really have a chance in the military. They were often put in the worst positions, meant to die. And if they survived, they were conscripted for 25 years. So they never were able to live a Jewish life or return to their families again.

In 1918, when my Grandpa was about 18, his life changed; he received the dreaded notice that he was to report for military duty. It sent his family into action. Nissan, as he was known in Europe, had to be smuggled out of Galicia to save his life.

Thus began my Grandpa’s two-year journey to salvation and survival. He left his home in the middle of the night with just those things he could carry and wear. His intention was to get to British Mandate of Palestine and join the efforts to create a Jewish homeland. But his first goal was to get to his cousins in Belgium.

He wandered through Europe during the battles of 1918 and the aftermath of the war. Slowly making his way to Belgium. He had no real passport. Instead he was using the passport of a dead cousin.

Eventually he made it to Belgium and his cousins. Their reaction to his wish to travel to Palestine was, “Why go to Palestine? It is a desert! Go to the United States, to the Golden Medina. You have an Uncle there. He will help.”

So my Grandpa contacted his Uncle Julius, known as Uncle Yidel to us all, his mother’s brother. Uncle Yidel agreed to sponsor Grandpa to the United States.  But he had one problem, he had been robbed along the way and had to work to earn the money to pay for his trip to the United States.  But finally, after about nine months, the last leg of his journey began. Fortunately for him, his uncle did sponsor him, because when he arrived in the port of New York City, and the immigration site of Ellis Island, he had just a nickel. Without a sponsor he would have been sent back to Europe.

Grandpa often would tell us that we could be whatever we wanted to be. “Look at me,” he would say. “I came to this country with just a nickel in my pocket. And look at what I have.” So we learned early on not to complain to Grandpa and to never give up!

I tried finding my Grandpa’s immigration information from the Ellis Island sites, but could find nothing. My Grandma’s was easy to find. So I often wonder what that passport actually said. And how old he was supposed to be? But in 1920, immigration procedures were not as intense and documentation was not as precise as it is now.

Tanta Molly and Uncle Yidel

Tanta Molly and Uncle Yidel

Uncle Yidel and his wife, Tanta Molly (also known as Malchik)  welcomed Grandpa.

Growing up in Europe, my Grandpa had been a yeshiva brocha, a student of Torah. He had a beautiful singing voice, and perhaps might have been a cantor. But instead, somewhere along the way, he learned to be a baker. When he first came to New York, he worked two jobs. One as a butcher, the other as a baker.  But it is as a baker that he prospered in America. He and Uncle Yidel started a bakery eventually owning a building in New York City. (My Grandma told me that when Grandpa proposed he told her he had a place. She thought he rented an apartment. She did not realize he owned the building!)


Grandpa in his bakery in West New York, New Jersey, 1942.

Grandpa in his bakery in West New York, New Jersey, 1942.

They separated the business after my grandparents married, and Grandpa and Grandma opened a new bakery in Linden, New Jersey.  But in the early 1930s, when my grandmother took their children to Europe for six months, Grandpa sold the bakery in Linden and opened a new bakery in West New York, New Jersey.  He kept this bakery for over 35 years.

Grandpa had many cousins in the United States. His parents were first cousins. So he was double cousins to many of the family. They helped him settle in. But Uncle Yidel was the most important. Uncle Yidel and Tanta Molly were always a part of our lives. They had one son, Ezra.

Whenever we went to see them, we were welcomed in Yiddish. Tanta Molly would come running out to hug us. She would call out our Jewish names: “ Tovaleh, Fagaleh, Chavaleh!” I asked my Mom, “Why does she put an ‘aleh’ on all our names?”

“It means little,” my Mom replied. “Well that did not make sense, Tanta Molly is littler than us!” Was my response. “It means she loves us,” Mom laughed as she said that. Later I found out the ‘aleh’ did mean little, but really was an endearment.

My Grandpa always missed the hills of Galicia. He often told me that he bought his property in the Catskills because it made him think of his home and his childhood. Many years latter when I traveled to that part of Europe, I saw he was right. The rolling, low mountains and hills do look like the Catskills.

My Grandpa forever missed his family. World War I did save him. He came to the United States. But his parents, siblings, and many aunts/ uncles/cousins stayed in Galicia. They all perished in the Shoah.

My Grandpa Nat was a draft dodger, but he never stopped fighting for the right to practice his beliefs and to protect his family in the USA. He loved America. He never traveled outside of the United States. When asked, his reply was always:

“Why would I ever want to leave here? It is the best place in the world.”