Reflections of a ‘Nation of Immigrants’ – Part 1
President John F. Kennedy called the United States of America, “a nation of immigrants.” Others proudly refer to our country as “a melting pot” of cultures, religions, ethnicities, etc.
Such “claims to fame” – which have made America both unique and great — are amply confirmed by hard statistics, anecdotal evidence and, most important, by our history.
Matthew Soerens, honored by the Obama White House as a “Champion of Change” for his efforts as an Immigration Reformer, writes:
“Except for those of Native American ancestry, we all can trace our heritage back to somewhere else, whether our ancestors came on the Mayflower or a slave ship, into Ellis Island or Angel Island, into JFK Airport or across the Rio Grande. At its founding, America was, as our first president said, ‘open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions.’ Though at various moments in our history we have not fully lived up to that standard, it remains core to our national identity.”
Of Dutch ancestry himself, Soerens is inspired by his Dutch immigrant ancestors and sees “reflections of their courage in the immigrants arriving today.”
In the feedback to an article about immigrants and immigration, this author was surprised by how faithfully the personal experiences and backgrounds of our readers and authors at The Moderate Voice (TMV) reflect the “melting pot” character of our nation.
Readers shared their stories of how and why they and their ancestors decided to immigrate to “The Land of Promise” and how they became part of the American family. Their inputs are so extensive that they will be posted here in two or three parts.
These are their stories:
Susan’s father, Moshe (Morris) Rappoport, was only 3 years old, when his parents — living in Kharkov in the Ukraine in 1922 –- made the fateful decision to “come to America” to flee the Bolsheviks.
The Rappoport family had already lost virtually everything, including Susan’s grandfather’s farm equipment factory, to the Revolution.
The decision was the easy part.
Then came the harrowing escape and travel from Kharkov to Poland with three young children.
In Susan’s words:
“The plan was to sneak across the border at night. I don’t know if my grandparents hired a smuggler to get them across the border, or if they were helped by a friend. My dad’s mouth was covered with a scarf so he could not cry and alert the border guards. (He suffered some oxygen deprivation and had seizures the rest of his life.) My aunt said she was warned to be silent. If they were discovered, they would be shot on sight. A man was holding her hand in the darkness, helping her over the rough terrain. She became so terrified, she just wanted it to end. She began to scream, intentionally trying to expose them to the guards. The man picked her up and clamped his hand over her mouth. They managed to make their escape.”
Aaron and Sonia Rappoport and their children “made it,” stayed in Poland for nearly a year and finally sailed for America out of Le Havre, France, aboard the “Paris”, on December 2, 1922. (Lead image)
Seven days later, they arrived at Ellis Island pretty much destitute. Susan: “My grandparents had brought a million Russian rubles in a suitcase. They were of no value because of the Revolution. My grandmother stuffed them into the holes in the walls of their apartment to keep out the cold.”
The apartment Susan mentions is in Chicago where the family initially settled and where her grandfather got a job working in a grocery store, which he eventually bought and operated. The photo below shows her grandfather (left) standing in front of the store with his employees.
Susan’s grandfather did not permit Russian to be spoken in the home (“He hated Communism”) — her grandparents only spoke Yiddish and broken English.
Eventually, Susan’s grandparents moved to Los Angeles and owned a rooming house in Long Beach. They put all their children through college, including Susan’s father who became a chemical engineer and did research at UCLA.
Susan would love to learn more about her family in Russia. However, her grandfather would never speak about his family, and stopped all contact with the Old Country. Using the internet, she did discover cousins in Tel Aviv, Zurich, Moscow and Sydney – all physicists, like Susan, who has a degree in astrophysics. “I think my Zayda (Grandfather) would be proud,” says Susan. “I learned recently that his hobby was astronomy,” she adds.
Susan now lives in California and is the rescue “Mom” of two dogs and nine cats. She retired from the University of California after a career in science and Information Technology. She visits local schools doing science projects with kids, and runs a yearly school supply drive.
Part of J. D. (“JD”) Ledell’s family’s immigration story goes back to the late 1800s.
JD’s paternal grandfather and family were living in Aix-en-Provence, France, when, in 1938, French citizens burned his grandfather’s dry goods store which “sold everything but groceries.”
After that traumatic event, and to escape the emerging Vichy government, JD’s grandfather arranged passage on a cargo ship headed for America for most of the family, including JD’s father, grandmother, sister, three uncles and their wives and children, two aunts and their husbands and children, the town rabbi and his family — a total of 31 people headed for the land of promise. JD’s grandfather himself headed for the promised land.
As was the case with so many other immigrants, the Ledell family — after losing the store and after paying for passage to America — was “absolutely destitute without a single franc in their pockets.”
When they landed in Bayonne, N.J., however, the family would soon experience American generosity at its best. When they walked off the boat, “they were met by New York City Jews welcoming them to live with them until the new arrivals got settled.”
After meeting many young men who “raved” about life in Minnesota, the Ledells moved to Minneapolis in 1940.
JD’s mother’s family – secular Jews – came to America much earlier. They left Wittenberg, Germany, in 1894, perhaps “impacted by the fact that Wittenberg was where Martin Luther was a monk and was the hub of the emerging Protestant faith.”
The family settled in Minneapolis, home to a large community of Germans, many whom they knew from Wittenberg. The family thrived in Minneapolis and soon “emerged from their strictly German roots to fit into the largely Scandinavian community.”
As mentioned, the Ledells settled there in the 40s…and the rest is history.
After a 32-year career with Prudential Financial where he was Senior Vice President in charge of everything non-insurance related, JD took early retirement in 2006 to join his wife, Cinder, in teaching piano as part of Castle LeDell Music.
However, the Ledell family story of diversity, immigration and success, continues.
JD’s son married a woman from Mongolia whom he met while they were both studying for their master’s degrees in Tokyo. His son’s bride, her sister and husband and her mother all immigrated to the U.S. and became naturalized citizens. “The sister and her husband have since established a trucking business that employs 117 Americans while raising two new American citizen kids of Asian extraction.”Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 The Moderate Voice