Hanukkah Reflections on My Regufee Heritage

This past week I've been celebrating a holiday that commemorates the unlikely survival of a people and a culture in the face of attempted eradication. I've been talking with my mother about her Aunt, who I never met, but whose kindness and strength my mother has recalled time and again -- a woman who lived out her life with numbers seared into her arm, numbers that branded her a survivor, a walking reminder of the unfathomable cruelty humanity is capable of, but much more importantly, a reminder of the incredible resilience, compassion, love, and kindness that can combat such atrocities.

It is not Trump who scares me, but my fellow countrymen, my fellow human beings, who have forgotten the power of their compassion, who have forgotten our sameness, and who are allowing their fear to trick them into believing that division is what keeps us safe, when it is -- and has always been -- unity.

During this holiday season, as I've been updating aunts and cousins on my recently-acquired hobby of tracking my family's ancestral history, I am reminded of a simple fact: though I consider myself American, not one single drop of my blood can truly, technically, be classified as such. In fact, one could say that I carry 100% refugee blood in my veins.

My mother's family were Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany; my father's Family came from Ireland (and a few, many centuries ago, from England) - and though many arrived on US soil centuries apart and from different areas of the globe, they all had something in common: They each came here to escape something - tyranny, genocide, war, famine. And, as census records and immigration documents prove, they each had names, lives, and stories.

Had they not come to the US, I simply would not exist - I would not have a name, a life, or a story. The same is true for many of us. And despite what those who arrived before them may have thought at the time, the Irish were not, in fact, Godless scum; the Jews were not greedy cheats or Nazis in disguise. In fact, once here, my ancestors and their offspring became scientists, artists, teachers, dentists, nurses, and tradesmen. They did not come to disrupt or threaten the American way of life - they came to take part in it and to help build and perpetuate it.

The more I learn of my family's background, the more remarkable I find it that they survived, that I exist. We are a culture and a country built from the strongest, most determined, most odds-beating individuals imaginable, and I am proud to carry the blood of refugees in my veins.