My great-grandfather, Benjamin Kizner, came to this country through Ellis Island roughly a century ago. Like so many immigrants, he left Eastern Europe and arrived in the United States in search of a better life. The American Dream. If it were not for his courage and vision, I would not be here today.
My family’s story, while special and inspiring, is not uncommon. It is because of millions of Benjamin Kizners that America is the culturally diverse melting pot that we all call home. America is a nation of immigrants. Whether your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, arrived on Ellis Island like mine, or fled tyranny or oppression in search of freedom, we are all Americans now.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” A valuable maxim on many accounts, Dr. King’s words are particularly potent today. While America is often viewed as a beacon of hope in the world, our nation’s history is in no way without its fair share of dark moments. Our forefathers turned a blind eye to the injustices of slavery and the persecution of Native Americans. During World War II, our leaders turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and forced Japanese-American citizens into internment camps. And on January 27th, 2017, our 45th President signed an executive order indefinitely banning Syrian refugees from entering America, suspending all refugee admissions for four months, and forbidding citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for three months.
America has a long list of condemnable injustices, and President Donald Trump seems to have no issue adding to that list.
When Trump announced his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States on the campaign trail, he was met with incredible criticism and pushback. Then-Governor Mike Pence tweeted, “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.” Most people, myself included, scoffed at the idea that such a ludicrous and disgusting proposal would ever come to fruition. And yet, here we are.
There is simply no moral or legal justification for Trump’s decree. As CNN’s Fareed Zakaria reported, a recent study done by a conservative think-tank researched the number of Americans killed by citizens of the seven countries banned by Trump’s executive order, from 1975 to 2015. Can you guess the result? Zero. Zero Americans have been killed by a citizen of any of these countries–Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen–in a 40-year span. Combined. So clearly, the goal of “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States,” as the order is titled, is void of any logic or rationale.
Logic, of course, is not a value or priority in President Trump’s White House.
It has been a tumultuous week for America. In his first week in office, Trump took action in the arenas of trade, immigration, reproductive rights, environmental policy, and others. He continues to dispute the results of both the popular vote and his inauguration attendance. With facts and alternative facts galore, America has been stripped of the integrity, honesty, and morality we took for granted under Barack Obama.
Growing up, I do not remember ever feeling ashamed to be an American. Unfortunately, that all changed on the night of November 8th, and my feelings of disgust and shock continue to grow. But even with all this darkness, there are still spectacles of light all around us. The Women’s Marches. Continued protests in cities all over the world. People everywhere are taking action and making their voices heard. We are not going down without a fight. It is truly inspiring. And it is just the beginning.
In these days of fear and uncertainty, I cannot help but think of these words from the Jewish tradition: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” America is a nation of immigrants. We were all once strangers in this land. Our ancestors came to this country to ensure a safer and better life for their families, and for generations to come. The day we forget that is the day we stop being America.
As a Jew and an American, I have been taught my entire life to treat all people with respect and love, regardless of one’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs. I always thought that was an American value. What I see today, however, is not the America my great-grandfather fought to reach all those years ago.