July 1, 2015

Gloria Garfunkel




IMMIGRANT JEWS


The Orthodox Jewish community is a cloistered group. Charity is given to other Jews: Jewish causes, schools, synagogues, elderly, poor, and especially Israel. My parents were Orthodox and my father donated as much as he could to the synagogue and Yeshiva school a block away from our house, though of course not as much as the millionaires who donated enough to get their names on plaques in our school buildings where their children walked around as if they owned the place, which in fact they did. The rabbi even had a Lincoln Continental the millionaire builders bought him which he drove with as much arrogance on the road as he exuded in person, never making eye contact with anyone but the millionaires.

Whenever something bad happened to someone in the newspaper, my parents would always look at the name to see if they were Jewish. Over the years, our neighborhood became less Jewish and more Cuban, Haitian and other recent immigrants.

When anyone criticized immigrants, illegal or not, my mother always said "They're just like me. They want to start a new life with their families in a new country where they are not oppressed. It's disgusting the way they treat illegal immigrants."

My mother was a concentration camp survivor taken to Auschwitz at sixteen. She and her younger sister were there for a year.  After the war they lived in Paris for two years, making my mother nineteen, too old for the sixteen-year-old quota to get into the U.S. So she changed her age on the papers to sixteen to just make the cut and enter the country. She herself was an illegal immigrant.

I used to wonder what would happen if the authorities found out, sixty or seventy years later, that she had lied on her visa.  Would they send her back to her village in Hungary that was plundered by the Nazis? Would they send her back to her thatch-roofed house that was inhabited by squatters while she was in Auschwitz and other camps, while her family was gassed?

None of it matters now. She is dead and lies next to my father in Israel. US immigration officials can never send them back now. They are at home, at peace in a country at war, safe amid the names of the lost ones, those without a grave in the homeland.


CP

Gloria Garfunkel has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University. A former psychotherapist, she has published many stories in literary journals and anthologies.