On a sunny morning, we set off for Battery Park and the Lower East Side.
Here’s something pretty.
Here’s something creepy.
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter—a Jewish American immigrant from Vienna via Brooklyn, who called himself a member of “the most vilified and persecuted minority in history”—was one of the three justices who would have let schools punish kids who wouldn’t salute the flag.
That says something about how American he felt.
Jews have been part of American life since early in the European invasion. Jewish refugees from Brazil, fleeing the Portuguese Inquisition, landed in Dutch New Amsterdam (now NYC) in 1654. They weren’t welcome. But they stayed.
For most of American history, America’s majority, descended from European Christian immigrants, tolerated Jews. In Jeffrey’s lifetime, Jews have become more widely accepted. They mostly are regarded as part of mainstream America.
Still, there are troubling signs. A white supremacist ideology condemning Jews as “other” always has been part of American life. For the half century beginning with the Great Society, that ideology was largely underground. No longer. Because of social media empowerment; Jew-hatred abroad by billions who never have met a Jew; and rising Jew-hatred in Europe, to which most Americans trace their ancestry; American acceptance of Jews seems more fragile today.
In NYC there is particular safety in numbers: over a million Jewish residents, who are a potpourri of colors, political beliefs and religious interpretations, are a full eighth of the city’s population. Jews here have been attacked here, even killed, for being Jewish. But in this city where every group is a minority, the Jews belong.
Downtown New York is associated with Jewish immigration from Europe.
We stopped at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, near the foot of Manhattan.
Behind the Museum are the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. About 40% of Americans have at least one ancestor who landed at the former Ellis Island immigration station.
We continued to Eldridge Street in what once was the Jewish heart of the Lower East Side. Now the shop signs are in Chinese.
Somewhere on nearby Hester Street, Jeffrey’s maternal grandmother (who landed at Ellis Island!) lived over a century ago.
While we admired Hester Street’s Emma Lazarus School, John called out to us.
John’s Italian grandfather immigrated in the 1940s by jumping ship in New York Harbor. John calls himself conservative, and subscribes to the conservative notion that any good person with a good reason to come to America should have a home here. John was decorating the school fence with ribbons for a rally against anti-Asian violence.
John says most Emma Lazarus students speak Chinese dialects. Jewish immigrants have moved on from the Lower East Side.
Jeffrey has had a few Jewish clients: from Russia, Belarus, Syria, Hungary, South Africa, Israel, Malaysia, and Canada, among other countries.
One had worked to protect American military personnel. That was a death sentence in his country. America would not rescue him with a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).
He had to rescue himself.
The man escaped to America. Jeffrey guided him through the complex asylum process. He met his legal burden to prove a well-founded fear of persecution. After years of delay, asylum was granted.
Our country, our NYC community, and a local synagogue, gained a fine new member.
Jeffrey’s client found a safe and happy American home.
A few hours after we posted today’s illustrated essay, the White House issued a Statement by President Joe Biden on the Rise of Anti-Semitic [sic: Anti-Jewish] Attacks.
We are a nation of immigrants. Somehow, we forget this and find groups to vilify in each generation. With declining birth rates around the globe, I can imagine a day in the not too distant future when we will be fighting to attract immigrants to keep our economies growing.
Amazing Blog!!! Thanks for sharing so much amazing history!
PS. Great pictures!
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Jeffrey, once more it is reassuring to benefit from your lessons along with sharing the beauty surrounding your trips. But mostly I am grateful for your ability to actually step up and speak with strangers and help them understand the horrors faced by asylum seekers who often face death for doing good in their own countries. It is comforting that you are out there, doing your best to spread the truth – something all too rare today.
I only regret not riding along side you. Be well. Thank you, k
Jeff, good to know you are still out there being YOU. I do wish there were more of “YOU”. Be careful on the wild city streets. Love K
I love your name, blog and yellow Phantom. I’m teaching immigrants and the children of immigrants here in Santa Maria. I’ve got to stop reading your blogs and get my I-864 together for my wife of 30 years. Thanks for caring and working.