RJKGratitude for Our Shared American Heritage

By: Robert J. Kopka

My father was an illegal immigrant, and I am a first generation American. My father grew up in Vienna, Austria. He and his family were illegal immigrants, having fled anti-Semitism in their native country of Poland. In 1936, the Nazis took control of Austria, and my grandfather was arrested and sent to Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany where he died. My father and his mother tried to leave Vienna, but no country would take them. In 1940, my father said goodbye to his mother, and boarded an illegal ship run by the Jewish underground. The ship’s forged papers stated that its destination was South America, but it was bound for Palestine—there was no State of Israel yet—and the British were refusing to allow refugees of Nazi oppression to enter Palestine. They were caught, arrested, and luckily for my father, sent to a displaced persons camp in Africa. My father eventually served in the British army, then the Israeli army, and survived the wars. His family, not as fortunate, all died at the cruel hands of the Nazis.

It is certainly not my intent for our internal publication to become too political or controversial. However, the plight of the immigrant was on my mind as my family enjoyed our wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I hope that, as we sat down to Thanksgiving meals, we all saw ourselves, all Americans, as immigrants. I hope that we considered the pilgrims, immigrants from Europe, seeking religious freedom, gratefully accepting assistance in a cold and unforgiving place, offered by their Native American hosts. Some of us were celebrating Thanksgiving with parents and grandparents who were immigrants themselves. Others may have volunteered at soup kitchens, feeding those less fortunate than us. Those of us who celebrate Christmas recall the cold night in Bethlehem when mother, father, and infant could find no place for the night. For those who celebrate Hanukah, this season reminds us that freedom of religion is a right to be fought for and cherished. A right guaranteed to us as Americans. A freedom not shared by others in countries less free and societies less tolerant.

As we enjoy the warmth of the December holiday season, I am also thinking about the fear and concern we are experiencing in our country in light of the recent terrorism around the world. At our firm, we pride ourselves in our diversity and respect for all people and cultures. Many of us are immigrants to the United States, and others are children and grandchildren of immigrants. Some of us are descendants of people enslaved and forced to come to this country. But we share a common legacy of freedom and tolerance.

We must not allow the few who would terrorize the many to deprive us of our humanity, our empathy, and our legacy of welcoming the immigrant. These words, written by Emma Lazarus are carved on the Statue of Liberty:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I hope that your Thanksgiving holiday was warm and delightful; spent with family and friends in comfort and joy. I hope that your upcoming holiday, Christmas, Hanukah, or otherwise is similarly joyful and gratifying. Let us all take a moment to reflect on the blessings we derive from this amazing republic. The United States of America is the greatest nation to have graced this earth. Its guarantee of freedom, its heart and soul, its tolerance of viewpoints, its desire to eliminate racial, ethnic, and other differences is truly a shiny beacon of hope for the world. No terrorist can ever change that, not as long as we keep our focus on what is right about our country and about ourselves. We can do our part right here at Kopka Pinkus Dolin by treating each other with respect. We do not tolerate rude and offensive attitudes or language. We appreciate and honor the law of our land as we uphold the principles which underlay our constitution.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy new year,

Bob


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