Immigrant Experiences


I was dismayed to read “Immigration, Then and Now” (July 26) by Jonathan Mark, which contends that there are vast differences between early 20th-century Jewish immigrants and recent immigrants. Mark states “one group was escaping a Holocaust; the other, simply seeking a better way of life in a stronger economy.”

True, world events and the scale of tragedy differ. But, I believe, the experiences of our community’s immigration are remarkably similar to those of today’s immigrants and refugees.

These similarities are on display in “Settling In,” an exhibit about immigrants that opened May at the Oregon Jewish Museum in Portland, Ore. It showcases Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants from the early 1900s and contemporary immigrants to Oregon from Burma, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea and Somalia.

Challenges such as dislocation, education, parenting, language, health, family ties, religion and citizenship surface in all accounts. The lesson is universal. The experiences of assimilation, cultural retention and transmission faced by 21st-century immigrants recapitulate the experiences that Jewish immigrants faced 100 years ago.

American Jews make up a community deeply connected to the immigrant story. Our own history encourages us to shed light on the path that brought us here, for those who come after us. Today’s immigrants deserve the opportunity to achieve a better life for themselves and their children. Our history demands that we advocate on their behalf.

Director Oregon Jewish Museum Portland, Ore.