NEW YORK (Dec. 3)
A Jewish refugee from Switzerland during World War II and a New York politician born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were honored here Tuesday night by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) for their contributions to American society and their symbols of hope as immigrant or descendant of immigrants who succeeded in America. Also honored was the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago for its efforts on behalf of refugees and immigrants.
The Irish New Yorker who received the 1986 Liberty Award for his "lifelong commitment to the cause of human rights and the continuance of America as a haven to the oppressed and persecuted" was Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D. NY).
Unable to leave Washington for the dinner at the Pierre Hotel because of the Iran arms affair, Moynihan’s award was received by his daughter, Maura Moynihan, who spoke eloquently and infectiously about her upbringing in Cambridge, Mass., Washington, D.C., and New York City among her Jewish friends.
The 6-1/2-year-old girl who came to Forest Hills, Queens, from Zurich in 1940 to escape probable persecution grew up to be the Governor of Vermont. Madeleine Kunin delivered the guest speech at the dinner whose theme was "A Salute to Immigrants," a capping-off ceremony for the year that celebrated the centennial of the Statue of Liberty and generations of immigrants who have made America what it is.
EARLY JEWISH UPRINGING
Kunin, who a month ago was reelected as only the third Democratic Governor of Vermont, spoke warmly of her European Jewish upbringing and recalled her family’s fear that Switzerland might not remain neutral.
Kunin admitted that "the Jewish experience in my political life is an interesting exploration … in an extraordinary time in the United States in terms of our ability to express ourselves on the political and social issues of our time … Rarely in our history have Jews had the opportunity to be openly political, as American and identifiable as Jews, without fear of dire consequences."
At a press conference prior to the dinner, Kunin was questioned about her Jewish affiliation and its relationship to her government office. Kunin differentiated between her personal and her political life. As Governor, she said, "I do not feel myself Jewish." She contrasted this with the "personal level," in which she is a proud Jew, a member of a Conservative synagogue and ever mindful of her heritage. She is "not a Jewish Governor," she clarified, "but a Governor who is a Jew."
Although there are Jews living in Vermont, "the Jewish population of Vermont is not enough to elect a Governor." Her religion, she emphasized, had absolutely nothing to do with her candidature or her election. "I’ve never felt impeded by being Jewish, " she said. Rather, she underlined that she was a Democratic Governor in a Republican state.
In her speech, Kunin said that "Jews, in fact, have learned through long and often tragic history that real economic opportunity is never assured without a system that also provides political justice … To be a mainstream politician for any of these groups is a fairly recent phenomenon, even in this country." Often, she said, this new factor "is still not accepted as a matter of course, but it happens, and that is what is important."
MOYNIHAN PRAISES HIAS
Moynihan, in his acceptance speech read by his daughter, praised HIAS representatives "who translated the abstract message of liberty into such tangibles as a warm meal, clothing, assistance in resettlement and employment counseling" and furthermore, extended these services to non-Jewish groups.
He declared: "It is a measure of the high esteem afforded HIAS that your agency has regularly been asked to assist with the immigration and absorption of such diverse non-Jewish groups as Asians, Vietnamese boat people, Cuban, Cambodian and Haitian refugees. The diversity of those currently receiving your assistance bears testimony to the vitality of the American promise and the nobility of the prophetic tradition from which HIAS draws its strength and inspiration." The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago was named recipient of the Zvi Hirsch Masliansky Award of HIAS "for efforts on behalf of refugees and emigres of all nationalities that has set standards for resettlement agencies throughout the United States." The award was presented by Stephen Shalom, a member of the HIAS board of directors, whose wife, Liliane Shalom, organized and chaired the Liberty Dinner.