“We were strangers once, too.”

Image:  slighly blurry black & white photo of a group of 6 people.  In back, a young woman, two middle aged men and a middle aged woman; in front of them, an older woman, and in front of her, a child of about 10.

My Jewish grandmother, Edith Spivack, was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1904 or 1905.  The family immigrated to the U.S. when she was young, and her remaining four siblings were all born in America.  She’s not in this photo, but her father (my great-grandfather), Zacharias, is the second from the right in the back row, and next to him is his sister, Fanny.  The older woman in the middle is Zacharias’s mother, my great-great-grandmother.

Update:  My mother just sent this excellent old-world photo, though by dint of the cast of characters, taken in the U.S. in about 1907 or 1908.  (Thanks, Mom!)

Image: sepia (brown and white) photo of eight people in formal dress of the early part of the 20th Century.  In the back row, three women (standing) in high-collared blouses, all apparently in their 20's or 30's; in the middle row, two men (sitting) wearing suits; the one on the left has a moustache; the one on the right has a full but neat beard.  In the front row, three children.  Two toddlers sit on the men's knees.  One perhaps 4-year-old stands on the right, with one of the women's hands on her shoulder.

From my mother’s description, with my commentary:  Back row:  Rachel (Toporovskaya) Palkin; Ida Toporvskaya (apparently  not yet married when this photo was taken); Fanny (Toporovskaya) Spivack [my great-grandmother].  Middle row:  ? Palkin (Rachel’s husband); Samuel Spivack [Fanny’s husband; my great-grandfather; Zacharias from the photo above — Samuel was the English name he selected].  Front row:  Palkin child; [my great-uncle] Max Spivack (on Samuel’s lap); [my grandmother] Edith Spivack (later Blau; standing, her mother’s hand is on her shoulder).  Rachel, Ida, and Fanny were sisters.

On the Protestant side, you have to go back a couple more generations:  my great-great-great-grandfather was born in Colne, England.  I have fuzzy memories of my father — an enthusiastic if not terribly well-organized genealogist — telling me that that he or another early family member essentially absconded from England with a patent that he did not, technically, own to start a manufacturing business in Massachusetts.

Update:  My Protestant peeps deserve a photo, too, right?

Image:  sepia photo of two young blond girls in white dresses with white ribbons in their hair, standing in front of a painting or backdrop of a beach with a rowboat.

My grandmother Helen Farr Smith [Robertson] [Love] and my great-aunt Elizabeth (Betty) Lees Smith [Carey], in 1911.

So we were strangers, once, and possibly of that criminal immigrant element you keep hearing about.  And yet here we are, a largely productive and law-abiding bunch.  I am grateful for the country that welcomed these people from such different places.  I’m grateful for the opportunities that allowed my grandmother to go from the shtetl to Radcliffe in the span of a single life.

Image:  black & white photo of a middle-aged woman with short salt & pepper hair and wire-rimmed glasses, wearing a suit jacket and a lace blouse underneath

I’m grateful for the mixing bowl that allowed a Protestant college guy and a Jewish college gal to meet and marry and have the quintessential American mutts that are my brother and me.  I’m grateful that many of us still welcome the strangers from many places, and hopeful that those who don’t will gradually find room in their hearts for their fellow immigrants.*

Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

Barack Obama, November 20, 2014.

*************

* Well, most of us.  I realize these heart-warming words need some editing for those whose ancestors crossed the Atlantic in the hold of a slave ship or were already here when our ancestors got here and started waxing eloquent about welcoming each other.  Bottom — un-heart-warming — line:  white people who would close our borders need to stfu.

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