November 24, 2022


This Thanksgiving, give thanks for refugees (Darcy Hirsh, 11/23/22, RNS)

In his 1789 Thanksgiving Day proclamation, George Washington wrote of America's "great and various favors" -- economic opportunity, religious freedom and the dignity of equality under the law -- that made this country a place where generations of those same hardscrabble people could overcome obstacles and achieve untold success. He spoke of the importance of giving back, of uniting "to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually." 

This Thanksgiving, that message holds special weight. Since last year, more than 250,000 newcomers have come to the United States and are observing the holiday for the first time.

They are Afghans who escaped the brutality of the Taliban regime and Ukrainians who fled the onslaught of the Russian invasion. They are people from all over the world who, due to religious and political persecution, were forced to flee their homes searching for the same "great and various favors" as my great-grandparents.

And now, they are our neighbors. 

This year, I've seen firsthand not only how communities are stepping up to help newcomers, but how refugees are enriching communities. Working with local Jewish community organizations and partners, my organization, Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation, has helped resettle over 2,000 Afghans and Ukrainians through volunteer circles, groups of community members who have come together to divide the responsibilities of resettling a newcomer. 

Since this initiative began, these volunteer circles have helped displaced Afghans and Ukrainians integrate into communities, find housing, start new jobs, enroll their kids in schools and begin the pathway to self-sufficiency in pursuit of the American Dream.

Our hospitality will make our country and our communities stronger.

These displaced individuals are translators, engineers, teachers and caregivers. They are motivated, they are hard workers, they are people who have proven their willingness to face great danger to better their families and overcome immense obstacles. 

That's how refugees have historically molded America into a strong, diverse nation that is a global leader in technology, business, medicine and so much more. They have strengthened the fabric of our communities and helped reinvigorate cities across the country, making contributions through culture, community or the economy.

Many of the great leaders in business, medicine, entertainment, technology, politics and other professions can trace their roots to the refugee story. Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger were refugees, as well as Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Freddy Mercury and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. 

In 2015 alone, more than 181,000 American entrepreneurs who arrived in this country as refugees generated $4.6 billion in business income. In medicine, international medical graduates -- those who earned their medical licenses and degrees abroad, but who came to the United States to practice -- make up 25% of all U.S. doctors.

This Thanksgiving, we should be grateful not only for what our country has done for refugees, but also for what refugees have done for America. 

Posted by at November 24, 2022 12:59 PM