Captain Karasik and his wife, Olga.

Courtesy of Jacob Rubashkin

Captain Karasik and his wife, Olga.

January 30, 2017

RUBASHKIN | A Dream of America

Print More

In 1925, after three weeks spent in steerage on the USS America and three years spent in a German refugee camp, a seven-year old Jewish boy named Benjamin Karasik stepped foot on the island of Manhattan. He and his family had fled from the horrors of the Russian Civil War, and now they arrived in America speaking no English and with only meager savings. Twenty-five years later, Captain Benjamin Karasik was commissioned as a doctor during the Korean War. And in a few short months, decades after passing under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, Grandpa Ben will celebrate his 99th birthday surrounded by his friends and family.

Grandpa Ben was one of the lucky ones; by extension, I am one of the lucky ones as well, as are both of my sisters, my mother and all my cousins. My family flourished and continues to flourish by the grace of America. It would have been so easy, back in 1925, to turn away the Karasik family, to send them back across the Atlantic to a continent on the brink of collapse. There were certainly plenty of reasons to do so. Jews were blamed for all sorts of global troubles, from the scourge of communist revolution to unspeakable acts of terror in the form of the blood libel. Indeed, even a decade later, as the specter of Nazism rose and the repressive Nuremberg laws came into force in Germany, a majority of Americans still believed that the Jews were at least partially responsible for their own persecution.

I would like to think we have come a long way as a nation since the days of the MS St. Louis. And yet, last Friday, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Donald J. Trump enacted a sweeping immigration ban targeting seven Muslim-majority nations. The hardest-hit of that group is Syria, from which all immigration has been suspended indefinitely. Refugees from the civil war in that country — who had undergone our rigorous two-year vetting process and were expecting to be resettled in the coming days — have been turned away by airlines or detained in American airports upon arrival. Some have even been sent back to their point of departure by American authorities.

At JFK International Airport, it was only after a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and personal intervention by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) that Hameed Darweesh, an Iraqi who had risked his life to serve as a translator for the U.S. military, was released from detention. Reportedly, one other translator and at least a dozen other refugees remain in custody at JFK. People in airports across the country are in similar situations. At my home airport, Washington-Dulles, customs officers have refused to abide by lawful court orders, preventing both attorneys and members of congress from seeing or offering counsel to detainees.

President Trump’s executive order is so fraught with issues that it is hard to know where to begin. It is a logistical nightmare, reportedly drafted by two presidential advisors with no input from career State and Homeland Security officials or from the White House Office of Legal Counsel. It appears to encompass, perhaps unconstitutionally, as many as 500,000 permanent legal residents originally from the listed nations. It also appears to encompass foreigners with multiple citizenships who carry a passport from the listed nation; a Canadian with Iranian citizenship, or a British citizen originally from Sudan, such as Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng, may be refused entry into the United States. The haphazard nature of the executive order has left countless families, including those with permanent legal status, wondering if they will be prevented from reuniting with their loved ones. It has created grave uncertainty for the future of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students studying at American universities under educational visas.

But even if the executive order did not apply to green card holders and foreign dual citizens, it would still be tragically un-American. When my grandpa came to this country, he sailed by the words of Emma Lazarus — he and so many others epitomized the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that Lazarus wrote of. He wasn’t working towards his Ph.D. or about to start a job at Microsoft. He was just a boy searching for opportunity in America because the old country had nothing left to offer him but persecution and death.

My grandpa didn’t go on to found Apple, like Steve Jobs (the son of a Syrian refugee). But he made his life here. He served his country in a time of war and continued to serve its citizens as a doctor for decades afterwards. He provided for his family, bringing up two children and six grandchildren with his wife Olga, all of them proud Americans working to better their lives and the lives of others. That’s the American dream right there.

But what’s important to remember is that my grandpa’s American dream didn’t begin when he took his oath of citizenship many years later. It didn’t even begin when he first arrived in New York City. No, that dream was born thousands of miles and an ocean away, when he first heard he was going to America. He was only seven and may not have known where America was or what our cities looked like. But he knew that America was a place where he could live in peace, without the fear that he would be killed simply because of the way he worshipped. He knew that America was a better place.

The huddled masses yearning to breathe free are still out there. Whether they are fleeing Russian pogroms or Syrian barrel bombs, the rise of fascism or marauding drug cartels, refugees from across the globe share in the same American dream my Grandpa Ben had. Our nation is stronger, more prosperous and more influential on the global stage when we work to turn those American dreams into American realities. With the stroke of a pen, President Trump sent those dreams tumbling backwards. This is a sad day for so many Americans. Let us not forget that we too were once strangers in this land.


Jacob Rubashkin is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at The Jacobin appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

  • thoren oakenshield

    How about showing some concern for the dreams of Americans?

    I doubt the Koreans, Chinese, or Israelis are wringing their hands about fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of Americans.

    For some reason, we’re supposed to overlook poor people in this country and focus on making people elsewhere in the world happy. WHAT THE FUK???

    I would like some free shit.

    • Lisa Wisely

      Exactly, what free stuff? Refugees are fleeing desperate circumstances, America should be a safe haven for those who are persecuted around the world regardless of ethnicity or religion. Somehow I doubt you are working to help the poor of this country.

      • Lilliputian

        Free housing, free food, free medical care, free clothing

        Or do you think people who don’t speak English and have no education and no skills are all going to land on their feet as front end developers? hahaha

  • Lisa Wisely

    Great article, we should all remember we are a nation of immigrants. There is a clear danger to designating the label “other” to those who are different from ourselves.

    • Pete

      Wow, that is so deep!! You must be a gender studies major.

  • Pete

    Attention Liberals: Step away from the edge. The country will survive. If we could live through eight years of Obama, we can endure anything.

  • Misha

    I am also a Jewish emigrant from former soviet republics,
    But the difference between me and emigrants from
    These Muslim countries is that I didn’t come
    Here to blow up other people, just because they have
    A different viewpoint or lifestyle, we didn’t possess a danger
    To this country . Our president isn’t against emigrants , (2 out of 3 his wifes were emigrants) , he is against dangerous emigrants

    • Dale

      It seems that Trump got lost on how his policies are supposed to help the non-dangerous immigrants. He blocked refugees from Syria, for goodness sake. These are the individuals who have been most hurt by the bad guys and are trying to escape a five way civil war in order to live in a land that better aligns with their world values. These are the emigrants who Trump must bring into this nation in order to prevent the further radicalization of the Arab Muslim world, but instead he won’t allow these refugees to come into the country until their government can vouch for their credentials. But how exactly are individuals from a nation engaged in a FIVE WAY CIVIL WAR supposed to have their credentials proven? That’s fundamentally not how refugees work. In order to stop the “dangerous emigrants,” President Trump has taken an action that only seems to prevent heavily vetted dreamers from escaping the horrors of war or the Muslim nation inhabitants who want to blow us up. It’s hella counter intuitive, my main man, Misha.

      • Shasta Zulu

        So we must bring all Muslims here so they don’t radicalize and kill us?

        Let me in little pig or else I’ll huff and I’ll puff and blow your house down

        It is not our job to work and pay taxes to support every downtrodden person on the planet: there are billions of people who could use help. We can’t help every fucking one of them.

        And if you do insist on helping them, help them where they are.

        don’t empty out a whole country, depopulate it, and bring them all here

        Are you retarded?

    • Lilliputian

      Leftist morons try to claim we’re all equal.

      No: Ashkenazi Jews like Einstein, Teller, Bethe with 160 IQs are not the same as violent backwards morons with 70 IQs from Omar and Yemen.

      It’s that simple.

  • Misha

    Who bombed Boston marathon? Who shot inocennt
    People in Orlando? And it is very short list. And you want to
    Bring more people like this? You are crazy!!!