On Devon Avenue, according to a headline that ran in the Tribune on Feb. 11, immigration raids are intensifying fears.
Imagine that same headline running in a 1925 edition of the Tribune, with the location being Douglas Boulevard in Lawndale, where so many Jewish immigrants were living. For me it isn’t hard to conjure up that scenario. My dad came to this country illegally that year, and lived for the next decade as what we call today an undocumented immigrant. He started out on the old West Side.
Before opening his own jewelry shop during the height of the Great Depression, he had worked as a watchmaker and then a supervisor at Sears Roebuck, which he told me employed many other “aliens” like himself. A favor of Julius Rosenwald? Most likely.
I can recall my father telling me that when he and my mother decided to get married in 1935, many of his fellow workers asked him if he thought he could trust her. Might she turn him into the government for a reward? Maybe they were kidding him. Maybe not.
In Parashat Kedoshim we are told, “...you shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am Hashem.” This is not presented to us as a choice.
We live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods of Chicago. When we work to upgrade our community by advocating for a new library or a new park, we do so with a coalition of the ethnic and religious groups who live here. Those of us who participate in these efforts have built relationships with these individuals. That is how we get things done.
In the last year and a half, I’ve been trying to help Jose, an undocumented immigrant whom I met at an event of the Chicago Humanities Festival where he was the featured speaker. He came to the USA at the age of 18 with a 6th grade education. Nearly two decades later he is finishing his coursework for a PhD at UIC. Though married to an American-born woman -- they have a five-year-old daughter -- he is still illegal.
I have committed myself to helping Jose in any way I can. I hope to use some of my connections to find him additional speaking engagements. Every time we get together or speak on the phone, he tells me that the most important thing to him is the fact that someone else cares. That always leaves him feeling better.
JUF/Federation agencies in West Rogers Park extend aid to immigrants of all backgrounds, because that’s the Jewish thing to do. As Jews we know what it’s like to live in a world engulfed by fear. We also know what it feels like to live in a world where others care.
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