(RNS) — In 1905, dealing with compelled enlistment within the czar’s military, my great-grandfather was smuggled out of Russia to the US. For Jews like him, who had been persecuted all through the Russian Empire, serving within the military may invite assaults from his countrymen. Evading enlistment may danger a dying sentence.
As soon as he arrived in America, he constructed a brand new life as a tailor in Rochester, New York, and have become a union organizer for the Amalgamated Clothes Staff Union. After they married, he and my great-grandmother, a descendant of Polish immigrants, lived in a family with 4 generations, maintaining their doorways open and a sizzling meal prepared for anybody passing via from the “outdated nation.”
My household’s story is the American story. It’s the story of generations of hardscrabble refugees, immigrants and alternative seekers who overcame unbelievable obstacles seeking a greater life. Within the course of, additionally they helped make America a stronger, extra dynamic nation.
In that regard, my household’s story can also be a Thanksgiving story, a narrative about giving again.
In his 1789 Thanksgiving Day proclamation, George Washington wrote of America’s “nice and varied favors” — financial alternative, non secular freedom and the dignity of equality underneath the regulation — that made this nation a spot the place generations of those self same hardscrabble individuals may overcome obstacles and obtain untold success. He spoke of the significance of giving again, of uniting “to carry out our a number of and relative duties correctly and punctually.”
This Thanksgiving, that message holds particular weight. Since final yr, greater than 250,000 newcomers have come to the US and are observing the vacation for the primary time.
They’re Afghans who escaped the brutality of the Taliban regime and Ukrainians who fled the onslaught of the Russian invasion. They’re individuals from all around the world who, resulting from non secular and political persecution, had been compelled to flee their houses looking out for a similar “nice and varied favors” as my great-grandparents.
And now, they’re our neighbors.
This yr, I’ve seen firsthand not solely how communities are stepping as much as assist newcomers, however how refugees are enriching communities. Working with native Jewish neighborhood organizations and companions, my group, Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation, has helped resettle over 2,000 Afghans and Ukrainians via volunteer circles, teams of neighborhood members who’ve come collectively to divide the duties of resettling a newcomer.
Since this initiative started, these volunteer circles have helped displaced Afghans and Ukrainians combine into communities, discover housing, begin new jobs, enroll their youngsters in faculties and start the pathway to self-sufficiency in pursuit of the American Dream.
Our hospitality will make our nation and our communities stronger.
These displaced people are translators, engineers, academics and caregivers. They’re motivated, they’re laborious employees, they’re individuals who have confirmed their willingness to face nice hazard to higher their households and overcome immense obstacles.
That’s how refugees have traditionally molded America into a robust, various nation that could be a international chief in know-how, enterprise, drugs and a lot extra. They’ve strengthened the material of our communities and helped reinvigorate cities throughout the nation, making contributions via tradition, neighborhood or the economic system.
Lots of the nice leaders in enterprise, drugs, leisure, know-how, politics and different professions can hint their roots to the refugee story. Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger had been refugees, in addition to Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Freddy Mercury and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
In 2015 alone, greater than 181,000 American entrepreneurs who arrived on this nation as refugees generated $4.6 billion in business income. In drugs, worldwide medical graduates — those that earned their medical licenses and levels overseas, however who got here to the US to observe — make up 25% of all U.S. doctors.
This Thanksgiving, we ought to be grateful not just for what our nation has completed for refugees, but in addition for what refugees have completed for America. To specific this gratitude, we are able to search for methods to assist newcomers in our personal neighborhood. Whether or not by becoming a member of a volunteer circle, donating provides or serving to to furnish flats, we are able to convey the true Thanksgiving spirit to life by serving to newcomers really feel welcomed.
By means of that work, we’re channeling our circle of relatives tales — typically steeped in persecution, generational trauma and violence — to make sure that a brand new technology of Individuals is aware of this nation as a welcoming, accepting place.
As we collect across the Thanksgiving desk this yr, allow us to be grateful — not solely with phrases, however via our actions — for the refugee communities which have helped make this nation what it’s at the moment.
(Darcy Hirsh is affiliate vice chairman of public affairs and authorities relations for the Jewish Federations of North America. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)