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Jewish Women’s Archive

If Emma Lazarus could have words with Donald Trump

Author:
elport4

By Sofia Heller

Emma Lazarus was a 19th century Jewish American writer whose poem “The New Colossus,” engraved on Lady Liberty’s platform, embraces immigrants as they enter the United States. Though she was from an upper class family, Lazarus defied societal restrictions and norms and dared others to do the same. She confronted sexism, anti-Semitism, and class struggles in her pursuit of a career in writing and activism.

Despite the fact that writing was an uncommon profession for women at the time, Lazarus rose in popularity and success. She took control of her own career, unencumbered by conventional societal ideals. She published her first book of poetry before she turned 18, and then sought out Ralph Waldo Emerson as a mentor.

Lazarus often wrote about issues pertaining to Jewish people: the treatment of Jews in America and the struggle of Jews worldwide. With the vicious onslaught of pogroms throughout Russia, Lazarus saw the influx of Jews immigrating to America.

Since Lazarus’ family had immigrated to America before the Revolutionary War, they were considered to be the refined elite. Typically, upper class American Jews did not regard Jewish immigrants sympathetically. These wealthier Jews were focused on maintaining their high status in society and didn’t want lower class immigrants to weigh them down. However, as in many aspects of her life, Lazarus took an independent approach.

Lazarus volunteered with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and called attention to the immigrants’ struggles. After being asked to write a poem for the plaque on the Statue of Liberty’s platform, Lazarus chose to cement a message of warm welcome to immigrants in “The New Colossus.” Lazarus’ poem resonates today, relaying a crucial message of inclusivity in a time of uncertainty–especially regarding the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

DACA was ushered in by an executive order signed by President Obama in June 2012. It’s a vital protection for people who immigrated to America as children but never gained legal status. The program allows these people –called Dreamers – to stay in the country with a two year renewable visa, and therefore emerge from under the radar without threat of deportation.

Five years later, President Trump has put DACA, an act of basic human compassion, in peril. In September of this year, Trump rescinded the DACA executive order. The deadline for eligible DACA recipients to apply for or renew a visa expired October 5. Now, Congress has six months–until March 5, 2018–to figure out a solution for the policy.

According to CNN, nearly 800,000 people will be forced to uproot their lives if the DACA program is taken away. These Dreamers have grown up only knowing America and its culture. They have gone to school here. They have planted their roots here. DACA gives Dreamers the ability to continue to participate in and positively contribute to American society.

When considering this new threat to DACA, we must remember Lazarus’ relevant lessons.

Lazarus asks us to take responsibility for the wellbeing of all people. She asks us not to turn our backs on immigrants and to remember that, except for indigenous people, all Americans are immigrants. She asks Jews, specifically, to remember their hardships as immigrants. Lazarus asks us to see America as a country that, by nature, embraces immigrants with open arms.

Now more than ever, we must heed Lazarus’ iconic words: “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!”

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

Sexism: Adaptable to the 21st Century

Author:
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By Shira Small

My sophomore year of high school, a dozen freshman boys created a March Madness style bracket evaluating each girl in the school to determine who was the prettiest. The domain they used required individual input, meaning they couldn’t just copy and paste names from the directory—they had to type in all 140 girls’ names by hand. The boys made derogatory puns out of many girls’ names, making fun of the way certain names sounded, or adding in crude language just for fun. Later, they admitted that they had intentionally misspelled the girls’ names so the list would be harder to find, but as with most things on the internet, it didn’t remain hidden for long.

The day the bracket went public, I saw a girl who had been ranked 60th run into the bathroom, tears rushing down her face. Moments later, a girl who was ranked 7th followed suit. It didn’t matter where you ranked; learning your friends had been judging you solely based on your appearance hurt no matter what. But for me it didn’t just hurt to see my name on the list, it changed the way I walked through the halls. Suddenly I was hyper aware of the way I looked and the way I moved; it didn’t matter if I was in class or with friends—I couldn’t stop thinking about the ranking. My mind became a cesspool of self-criticism, and my insecurities dominated every thought. These boys’ blatant objectification had turned me into an object in my own eyes.

Equally excruciating to being placed on this list was the backlash—or lack thereof—from the student body. I figured that people who normally dispute sexism’s existence would be eating their words. Instead, most people shrugged off the incident because “these types of rankings are made all the time.” I was shocked. I thought, really? That’s your defence? Sexism is acceptable because it happens all the time? In the same breath people said sexism wasn’t real, and also that the bracket was acceptable because sexism is unavoidable. Externally, I didn’t feel comfortable explicitly questioning the hypocrisy of some of my classmates. Internally, I was suffocating, furious that I couldn’t relay how hurtful and prejudicial their dismissal of the list was. I found myself at a crossroads: do I keep quiet in my comfort zone, or do I speak out at the risk of being controversial? Looking back, I wish I had spoken out, but in the moment I felt so lost that I did what too many girls who are hurting do—I stayed silent.

I don’t think the whole school considered the bracket acceptable, but it brought out a side of the student body I hadn’t seen before. One of my closest male friends admitted to creating a ranking of all the girls in our grade and discussing it with other boys. A handful of girls were unbothered because they had gotten so used to seeing these types of lists. Many felt rightfully upset, but some misplaced their anger. In response to the bracket, one girl retaliated with a list of her own. She ranked about nine boys in the school, most of whom had participated in creating the original ranking. Although the school punished her as well as the boys responsible for the other bracket, her punishment wasn’t as harsh. The same people who had disregarded the list of 140 girls took great offense to this new list, claiming it was sexist towards men that it was taken less seriously. I don’t condone this retaliatory list, but it was clear to me that it did less damage.

I was a feminist before the list emerged. I noticed daily microaggressions towards women; I saw an underrepresentation of women in power; I knew that not all women had the right to choose; I witnessed my mother’s exposure to sexism in the workplace; I heard about my grandmother not always having the right to vote. However, I never thought I would encounter such explicit sexism from progressive kids my age. People often tell me there’s no longer a need for feminism, and at times it’s hard to disagree. But the list and the troubling responses it elicited sent me a clear message: sexism is real, and we cannot stay silent. Progress isn’t permanent, and in order to protect the advances we have made we must be vigilant, proactive, and supportive — we must be feminists.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

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