Friday, February 24, 2017

Desecrated Graveyard: What would Grandma Hetty say about this?

I am sure by now that you have read/saw on TV/viewed on the Internet about the graveyard in St. Louis which was vandalized this week.  Over 100 grave stones were pushed over and trashed.  My extended family lives in St. Louis; my mother grew up in Madison across the river.  My grandparents, great uncles and cousins are buried in that cemetery it took me a minute to put it all together to realize my family's gravestones were at risk. All at once my sister and my cousins began a flurry of emails:

Are our graves ok?
What can we do?
How can we help?

VP Pence cleaning up
We felt relieved when we heard all of our relatives graves were untouched.  It seems the vandals chose graves close to an inner cemetery road.  Our graves were deep in the cemetery.  My sister sent me pictures of our graves. There was a massive outpouring of help from the Muslim community to the Christian community and even Vice President Pence made a stop there to help clean up and say a few words.

I have been thinking about this event all week and I finally realized what was bothering me.  I was very close with my Grandma Hetty Diamond.  She lived a long time and as you can see from her grave she outlived my Grandfather Wolf, who I never met and for whom I am named.  If she knew what about the events of this week that the graves in this graveyard were vandalized because it was a Jewish graveyard I thought at first she would be incredulous.  She had come to America and became a citizen and she believed  that she lived in a great country.  My mom said I was mistaken and not for the first time corrected me: my grandmother was ahead of her time and she would not be surprised at this latest act of anti-semitism.  She read the newspaper everyday and loved whatever first lady Eleanor Roosevelt had to say; there was a picture of FDR in their house; however she lived in the small town and was aware of anti-semtisim and had probably experienced it as well.

Diamond, my grandparents
Both of my grandparents became citizens in the early forties.  My grandmother came here in 1919 after WWI and my grandfather, Wolf had come earlier and both grandparents were originally from  Manchester, England.  My grandfather died very young and my grandmother was a working mother her whole life.  She supported my mom and her older brother Louis through camp and college with help from some of the Uncle's.  Family helped family. That is the way it was.  They had only been one generation in England as my great grandparents were born in Russia.  My family kept moving from place to place to do the best for their family.

Perhaps I keep thinking about the desecration of the graveyard and my ancestors as we discuss the status of refugees in the United States today.  I am proud that at Lakeside Congregation with the help of HIAS  are sponsoring a refugee family.  We have collected all of the money, furniture, clothes and other items and we are just waiting for the travel ban to be lifted.  It is with a heavy heart I see my country putting up more road blocks for families seeking asylum.

As I talked with my mom today she said we live in troubled times, with a capital T and I agree.  We must continue to work to do what is right.  This may mean calling your representatives, marching to protest the travel ban or cleaning up a cemetery where your grandparents, great grandparents and other relatives are buried.
Grandma Hetty Diamond and me: 1972 at my Bat Mitzvah

Friday, February 10, 2017

No time like the Present: Get out and do something

This Sunday, February 12 @12:15pm  Lakeside Congregation along with Beth Am will be hosting a rally to encourage our current government to welcome Refugees.  I am proud to say that with all of the protests over the past 13  days at airports, in the streets and now at synagogues has made a difference.  The 9th circuit court of Appeals has said this travel ban (or Muslim ban) is not legal.  I am not sure, and don't think that anyone is sure how this will play out in the future.  For now we must stick to our Jewish values and realize what it is to welcome the stranger.

I have heard many "talking heads" speaking about stricter vetting.  I have learned much about the vetting process since Lakeside decided in the fall to host a refugee family.  Most refugee families have been in refugee camps for 17-20 years or longer.  They have been on lists and been vetted many times over.  When the executive order came down banning refugees the heartbreaking stories of family after family who had sold all their possessions as little as they may be  and left the refugee camp, bought winter clothes to come to America and now are even more destitute than before.

This American Life has a recent podcast on exactly what is happening with refugees trying to come to America.  It is heartbreaking to listen to and I can't imagine what it would be like to see pictures of these families devastated by the capriciousness of our government.  I have more hope now that the 9th court of appeals has lifted the ban.  My maternal grandparents came from Manchester, England via Russia and my paternal great grandparents were from Germany and Russia.  What would have happened if they had been denied access? I hope if you can't make our rally you can make another HIAS rally this weekend!