Welcoming The Stranger
Written By: Madeline Driban, Development & Communications Associate
Stepping into the JFS file room, I curiously scanned the packed shelves, eventually discovering the old boxes marked “Archives, 1948-1951.” JFS’ 120th anniversary provided me the unique opportunity to search through the agency’s history and this seemed like the perfect place to start. Excited by this hidden treasure, I climbed up to see what lie inside. The sweet, musty smell of old papers and memories blossomed out of the box as I lifted the lid, disturbing the cracked, creased, and long-forgotten papers… it certainly was a hidden treasure.
I was in awe of the history I found inside. Old board meeting notes and memorandums, agency self-studies, and job applications…but one rather large file caught my eye. Labeled “United Service for New Americans,” the folder contained old correspondence and paperwork, telegrams and affidavits, job listings and case reports… page after page detailed the extraordinary work our Delaware community did in the 40’s and 50’s to advocate and open doors for Jewish refugees seeking a fresh, safe start after the war. Jewish Family Services, or the Jewish Welfare Society as it was called then, was front and center, coordinating these communications and services.
Regular letters and reports from the United Service for New Americans laid out the rapidly growing need, to which we would ultimately respond…
“Twenty thousand Jewish men, women and children, survivors of the world’s worst persecution, have now become eligible to enter the United States as a result of the… the Displaced Persons Act,” read one report, dated May of 1950. “These uprooted and homeless Jewish victims of war have been given their final chance to come to a free country …their decade of oppression can be ended if every Jewish community acts promptly…”
Passion and urgency filled every page, bringing the people and their stories to life. Families, cousins, friends, and neighbors traveling from Poland, Vienna, Berlin, and Romania; people seeking new homes not only in America, but in Australia, Haiti, and Israel. Relatives, rabbis, donors, and employers rallied around these refugees, sending funds for travel, meeting them at the docks, and providing lodging until they could become self-sufficient. Each sponsorship or assurance document signed was filled with hope and promise of a new life, each page a piece of JFS history.
Jewish Family Services of Delaware has a long and proud history of advocating for and assisting newcomers to America and I was touched to discover the traces of this history waiting to be read. We remain committed to reuniting families that have been separated by war, mobilizing communities to welcome them with open hearts, and helping them rebuild their homes and reshape their dreams in Delaware.
At the Passover Seder each year, we gather to tell the story of the Jewish People, afflicted with insecurity, wandering in search of safety; we are reminded at this time not only of our Exodus from Egypt, but our migration from a war-torn Europe and how, now, as a result of our history and resilience, we pledge to help those seeking refuge today. Compelled by our shared American values, spiritual convictions, and responsibility to humanity, we stand together to help the world’s most vulnerable people live in freedom and safety.
The Passover Exodus was 3000 years ago; the Jews’ liberation from the Holocaust was almost 75 years ago; and, yet, many around the world are still fleeing horrors most of us can only imagine. As we step into our own Jewish history this Passover and retell the story of our people’s search for freedom, I urge you to remember the 68.5 million displaced people and refugees around the world who are still in crisis today. I hope you’ll be inspired, as I have been, to open doors, hearts, and minds and to join in making history for our future generations to read and admire…because our people were refugees too.
Opening our Doors; Opening our Hearts
Download JFS’s 2017 Haggadah Supplement for your Passover Seder to connect our Jewish story with that of today’s refugees.
Instructions: Print out Haggadah Supplement double sided. Fold along the gray score lines so the narrow panels titled “Opening our Doors” and “Opening our Hearts” touch across the center.