A Different Syrian Immigrant

Some classmates at the Jewish elementary and high school I attended were the children of Syrian refugees. On Shabbat, my family ate gefilte fish while they ate kibbeh. I pronounced the Sabbath day ‘Shabbos’ while they said ‘Shabbath’. I was blonde and blue-eyed while their hair was black and their eyes brown. Some of our prayers and religious customs were different as were our cultural reference points. 

Most of the students in my class were the children or grandchildren of refugees. Almost all the refugee generation immigrated with little more than the clothing on their backs and horrific memories of lives destroyed. They did not speak English nor have skills that were in high demand. The families came mostly from Europe, but a not insubstantial number were expelled from Arab countries: Morocco, Egypt and most of all Syria. To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a Daughter of the American Revolution among us. 

I am enormously grateful that there was an America for my grandparents (and for one side of my family, my great-great grandparents) and for the grandparents and parents of my friends to come to. Many who are descended from immigrants from other nationalities feel the same way. For this reason, so many Americans feel a deep sympathy for and a desire to welcome the current wave of Syrian refugees. 

There is, however, an enormous difficulty and I don’t mean the fear that this group of refugees will include terrorists.  When my Jewish ancestors arrived, an American culture greeted them. They embraced much of that culture with love and appreciation. They had the freedom to ignore other parts, such as the Christian nature of the land, missing out on job opportunities that required work on Saturday (during the Depression that sometimes meant going hungry), not attending school parties or graduations that took place on Friday night and staying strangers to cheeseburgers and oysters.  To them, America’s promise of religious freedom meant that, unlike Russia or Germany, they weren’t persecuted or killed for being Jews. They were equal under the law. Yet, they still reaped the benefits of an American culture that was deeply rooted in America’s unique Christian experience.  That culture no longer exists. Its demise is largely what makes immigration fraught with problems. 

Let me explain with an analogy. One of my infant grandsons is highly allergic. Nursing him means that his mother can’t eat gluten, corn, soy or dairy. Another grandson has a nut allergy. It’s important to our my husband and me to have our family eat at our home. However, with these allergies, menu planning has taken on a whole new dimension. This is something that I do with love, even if it is time consuming and at times exasperating. It means that some of our traditional, favorite recipes have been retired. Our children are appreciative and my husband and I benefit from the added warmth and zest that they bring to our lives. 

What would happen, however, if as time went on, our children, grandchildren and in the future great-grandchildren, began to see tailoring meals to suit them as an entitlement rather than an offering? One after another might find this or that odor offensive, remonstrate that eating meat is barbaric, or insist that only locally grown vegetables are moral to eat. They might demand food at times to suit their schedules, forget to be thankful and start insulting my husband and me for still wanting to eat the foods of our earlier years. Rather than offering to help cook, serve and clean up, they will treat our possessions with disdain, breaking plates, messily spilling crumbs and wasting our resources. As they devour our food, they will ridicule our belief that family is important. Perhaps they will find lawyers to prove that precedent insists that we still must feed them. Slowly and surely, the care that I used to lavish on cooking will be replaced with resentment reluctance to expend much effort and certainly a refusal to welcome their friends as we do now. The food will be less tasty, the surroundings less pleasant and the experience less fulfilling. Having broken the family/love/food system that existed, they will now deride me for being unfriendly, selfish and unfaithful to my beliefs.

I realize that my analogy is imperfect. Yet, I don’t think that it is completely far-fetched. It applies not only to immigrants but to multi-generation Americans as well. As the daughter of immigrants, my mother went to a public school that had a Christmas pageant—and gave her an outstanding education. My friends’ Syrian parents learned that the bribery and under the counter activity that was routine in the Arab shuk (marketplace)  would land them in jail here—but that they could prosper with hard work and by following the rules. My Catholic neighborhood friend’s Italian grandmother never learned English and her children were mocked by classmates for not knowing the language when they entered school—but their mother punished them for complaining and they quickly became fluent.

Was it pleasant for my mother to feel singled out when she wouldn’t observe Christmas? No. Was it easy for my friends’ fathers to learn how to work in an entirely different economic culture? No. Was if fun for Italian speaking children to go to school everyday where they didn’t understand the teachers or other children? No. Would more sensitivity on the part of established Americans have been kind? Yes. 

But the bottom line is that with all this discomfort, there actually was an American culture.  It promoted Christmas, English and an honest marketplace above other ideas. When no one was apologizing for American culture, immigrants could arrive and be assimilated into an existing, successful system. 

I can’t prove a direct line between Christmas creches in public squares and a flourishing educational system. There is no direct link that I know of between abortion becoming a constitutional right and a failing economy. I can’t point at studies showing that magnifying the rights provided to new immigrants instead of the responsibilities and obligations they must acquire makes them less rather than more successful. But I think that all of the above are, indeed, connected. 

When President Obama, after the terrorist activity in Paris, spoke of letting in thousands of Syrian refugees, he said, “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” The problem with that is that he and I share very few values. He believes that a suppressed American Christianity is what America needs; I believe it is a disaster for this country. He believes that redefining marriage is a step forward; I believe it is a step towards failure. He believes that individual wealth should be redistributed; I believe it should be respected. He believes in incessant pontification and carrying a stick of jello concerning foreign policy and I believe in Roosevelt’s idea of speaking softly and carrying a big stick. He believes that when Blacks or Moslems are in conflict with white people, especially Christians, that the latter are guilty until—and even when—proven innocent; I believe in blind justice. He believes in using the power of government to suppress speech with which he doesn’t agree while I believe in freedom of speech. He believes that America is not unique among nations and I believe that it is. He believes in picking through the bible to support his personal views and I believe in shaping my personal views by the same ancient Jewish wisdom about the Bible that guided my ancestors. When it come to values, there are almost no ‘our values’ of which the President and I can speak. 

Having become diffident, apologetic and afraid of what used to be the  American values of patriotism, individual responsibility, education (vs. the indoctrination on today’s campuses), hard work, a Judeo-Christian heritage, a non-fluid Constitution and a myriad of other ideas that have been destroyed and deprecated for the past fifty years, immigration is indeed a problem. Many immigrants would love and appreciate the America that greeted my ancestors, with all its lack of multicultural awareness. Other immigrants want an American of which they can take advantage or one that mimics their home country but where they, not others, are in power. Others want to destroy America. We no longer have cultural agreement on what we envision as America’s future and the president and I disagree on which types of immigrants should be welcomed. The land of freedom and opportunity into which my grandparents and my Syrian friends’ parents came doesn’t exist anymore. You don’t even need to add potential terrorists to the list to see that the ability to welcome ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ is another casualty of secularist liberalism gone amok. 
















19 thoughts on “A Different Syrian Immigrant”

  1. I always look forward to your musings and the intelligent observations they attract that are rarely found in general conversation.
    It is a bit of a romantic comedy in that I think everyone means the best for one another, but are too stubborn to concede that the other may have a valid argument.. The political tension is thick, and all the more rewarding it will be when partisans reach that moment when one says to the other, “Kiss me, you fool.” For example, yes, we should treat political refugees as if they were posing as terrorists, and yes, we should treat terrorists as if they were posing as political refugees, simply because political refugees and terrorists do exist.
    I think we will look fondly back on Obama’s administration but not for the reasons his constituents might think, that he has changed the world for the better, but for that his presidency is evidence of the world having changed for the better. Well, America anyway. I know it doesn’t appear to be the case, that America is all the better, exactly, but it has moved forward in its tolerance of opposing ideas in an observance of the established system of democracy. No revolutions will be necessary as all that may have been askew by way of this system can also be set aright by way of these very same principles set forth by our forefathers.
    Being set upon a rock, it may be prone to shaking, but it will be nearly impossible to utterly collapse, notwithstanding that it is God’s will that it should.

  2. I understand why you got off FB and have limited your time. Our society is poorer though for the drop in the ability to have conversations and honest debate with those who disagree with us.

  3. You are making a good point. The pendulum does swing back and forth and I would never argue, for example, that economic times are harder now than during the Depression. The Sixties had awful times including the Weatherman and a heroin epidemic and college campus unrest. But I don’t think that things return to the ‘middle’ – because when the extremes are around they shift the middle.
    Countries do have the habit of fading from their heights, not of recovering their positions. You are correct about anti-immigrant feelings recurring through American history, but I do think that the way we changed immigration in the Sixties has led to the problem being on the other side – not being too unwelcoming to too many but of being too welcoming to too many. I don’t want to go back to the way things were, but I think that the way things are place us in critical care.

  4. This is why I am no longer on Facebook. To many crazy exchanges with people who do not understand how to exchange thoughts and ideas. I was becoming like them so I dropped Facebook. Haven’t regretted it. I am still on Twitter but find it another source for news and less u friendly exchanges. Mostly because I only follow people I agree with. Both sites, are for me, time wasters. I have to limit myself.

  5. Hi Susan,
    Another well written muse. Judging by the comment section you seem to articulate well a feeling many people are having. But sometimes Susan I do wonder if we judge the Present to harshly. Are the current times we are living in truly worse then the past, or do we somehow as humans always have an inclination to look at the past as the “Good ole days”.
    The economy isn’t great today but would you say that its worse then what Americans felt in the 1930s, 1970s, 1990s, 2000, or even recently as the great recession of 2008.
    Christian family values are being degraded but are they being degraded more then in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Roe vs. Wade happened in 1973.
    Radical Islam is dangerous and absolutely must be destroyed but is it worse then Nazism, Fasicism, or Stalinism.
    Political correctness has run amok but is it worse then the times in our country where being openly antisemitic, racist, or sexist was considered ok. In regards to political correctness i think whats happening at American colleges is truly ridiculous and the pendulum has shifted far to the extreme left, but how much is that a natural reaction to a pendulum that was shifted a little too much to the other side at times. I wonder if political correctness works the same way as markets do and eventually corrects itself to the middle.
    I wonder if Obamacare as an entitlement program is worse then social security, medicare, medicaid, farm subsidies or the various other entitlement programs that politicians have enacted in the past.
    As regards to our reactions to refugees/immigrants in general that i would agree has been pretty much constant throughout our history. Whether it was the German, Irish, Italians, Catholics, Jews, Chinese, Japanese (post WW2), Mexicans, and now Middle Eastern people we Americans have been pretty consistent with our reactions. First major outcry, followed by integration, followed by next major outcry against some new group.
    I certainly don’t mean to belittle the concerns people are having today and to be honest I might be completely wrong. Maybe America today is truly worse then it has ever been. I wonder though if 20 years or even 5 years from now we’ll look back and count today as one of those “Good ole days”. Only time will tell.

  6. Laurie Tigner You just proved my point. You ha e no point other than to attack
    Like · Reply · Message · 1 hr
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin Sorry – I don’t get your point. I am suggesting that his actions and words reflect his thoughts. Are you saying that he is really a Tea Party, 2nd
    Like · Reply · Commented on by Susan Lapin · Just now
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin amendment loving, hater of Islam because his thoughts are different than what he says and does? I have to say that I may not respond more today or tomorrow because I don’t use internet on the Shabbat which starts incredibly soon and I’m under time pressure getting ready for it. I will see anything you post either Saturday night or Sunday.

  7. Right. With regard to the reawakening of America: recall that the Community-Organizer-in-Chief was fond of comparing himself grandiloquently to Lincoln. But he who invokes or honors Father Abraham must remember also what he said: ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’
    One more observation: with so many Judaeo-Christians having been brutally executed by ISIS, I doubt the remaining ‘immigrants’ from Syria today can compare at all with the ones that you remember from long ago. They are clearly not the same people. Why cannot the Muslim world with its benevolent and compassionate Deity and their Muslim bleeding hearts open its doors to them? I’m just sayin’…..

  8. I do think it important for there to be conversation. So, I am pasting a non-agreeing comment that went on Facebook (please know that I often don’t see Facebook comments because I don’t ‘hang out’ there). There may be more back and forth so this is incomplete, but I am immersed in cooking for Shabbat which starts in about 3 hours and may not have time to add anything new that comes.
    Laurie Tigner Sick analysis….. Or attempt at analysis….I would call it, publishing your own prejudices.
    Like · Reply · Message · 5 hrs
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin Please fill out your thought process instead of attacking.
    Like · Reply · Commented on by Susan Lapin · 1 hr
    Laurie Tigner
    Laurie Tigner Like you did? Sounded like attacking to me.
    Like · Reply · Message · 1 hr
    Laurie Tigner
    Laurie Tigner “When President Obama, after the terrorist activity in Paris, spoke of letting in thousands of Syrian refugees, he said, “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values.” The problem with that is that he and I share very few values….See More
    Like · Reply · Message · 1 hr
    Laurie Tigner
    Laurie Tigner your words….. you have no right to say what he thinks as if it is fact. These are YOUR “interpretations” (with obvious dislike and bias), not facts. When you can speak fairly about people without speaking for them, get back to me….not before.
    Like · Reply · Message · 1 hr
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin
    Rabbi Daniel Lapin You’re making a valid point that I can’t know what he thinks. But he has made statements or done actions that reflect each of the points I made.
    Like · Reply · Commented on by Susan Lapin · 36 mins

  9. What happened at Yale and Claremont College and Mizzou says it all. The push to shut down conversation and education has reached such a ridiculous level that I hope it serves to wake people up. Next week, I know a lot of readers will have a decision as to whether to stay silent when values they believe in are bashed at the Thanksgiving table or whether and how to speak up. I do encourage anyone expecting that clash to read Tim Daughtry’s book, Waking the Sleeping Giant. He has great tips for how to speak so you don’t get mean or tongue-tied or angry.

  10. I was just trying to put this into words this morning while talking to someone else. I certainly don’t trust wolfish terrorists…but unfortunately, neither do I trust most of our nation’s leaders. They are part of the problem as well.
    This is such a thorny knot of issues and concerns, and when a person raises those concerns and asks for them to be addressed, they often are called names. That does not help at all.

  11. I had not seen that about Ted and Heidi Cruz. I believe that this does come from the heart, though obviously he is courting Evangelical voters. It is in keeping with his life. While the primaries are the first hurdle, I do want to hear him speak in ways that can appeal to those who spurn organized religion as well. I think he can do that and that it would be good to lay the groundwork for beyond the primaries.

  12. Oh my goodnes, Susan! You put into words so beautifully the heart of the problem and how it has ensnared us. Praying for our country to be able to turn itself around. I fear though that we have tipped the ship so far to the left that capsizing may be enevitable. We must keep doing what we can to help others see what has happened and how to make it right again. A ship does best at sea when it is level. Thank you for always so eloquently putting into words what I believe and know to be true. You do it so much better than I ever could. You have a talent and you are using it well. Did you see that Ted and Heidi Cruz are starting a group that prays for our country? That is what we need more than anything! Praying for America. Blessing to you and Rabbi.

  13. A grand Musing! Your next-to-the-last paragraph encapsulates the hideous core of creeping American decline. None of us, to my knowledge, asked to be born, but then again, nobody owes us anything. Yet so very many of us have become whiners after entitlement and equality, following the perilous socialist drumbeat: what’s in it for ME? And someone in the Government will conspire to promise such things to them: a convenient distraction from issues that count, such as the porosity of our national boundaries. I fear that “the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to be free” will contain insidious agents yearning for jihad. A Trojan Horse of immigrants is carefully designed, an operation orchestrated by a conductor who despises the melodies of our American symphony and plots its cacophonous destruction. Perhaps a Trojan Horse of Syrian manufacture is not needed. The warriors most likely are already over the walls, having filtered through our borders, left open and porous not by benign neglect, but with malicious glee. Americans, wake up!

  14. WOW ! Great “Musing” today….there is nothing to add to this….I agree the country that I grew up in has disappeared, I was born in the 1940’s, sometimes it is hard for me to believe that I am still in America…but I do believe that among the vast majority the American Spirit is still alive, maybe dormant but still there….Let’s hope and pray that the American Spirit will be revived and once again America will resemble the one we used to know…I pray daily that God places the right person in the White House to help turn America back to the great nation that she was and can be again..

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