In the early 1900s a Jewish family from Kishinev in what is now Moldova, led by a man named Shmuel (anglicized as Samuel) Fogle made a difficult decision to leave everything and everyone they knew and loved to immigrate to America. Some thirty-five years before the Holocaust, brutal pogroms flared across eastern Europe. Jews weren’t allowed to conduct business or vote.  During the Kishinev pogrom of 1903, Russians pillaged the Jewish shtetl, raping dozens and killing 73 souls.

There were so many Jewish families fleeing persecution in eastern Europe that the United States limited the number it would accept. At the time, immigrants who didn’t share the majority’s religious views weren’t viewed as valuable new citizens.

They couldn’t speak English. Many hadn’t attained university diplomas. The Jewish immigrants displaced lower middle-class citizens because they’d perform manual labor on the cheap.  Sound familiar?

The Fogle family could not get visas and were therefore denied entry to the land of liberty, so they made their way across the Atlantic to Canada, who did accept them. Eventually the family snuck across the Vermont border, hiked across the Berkshires and down the Hudson River Valley to the lower east side of Manhattan in New York City, at the time the most densely populated place on earth, where they settled.

It wasn’t uncommon for an entire family (husband, wife and four or more children were the norm) to share one 600 square foot apartment. The streets were dirty and smelly. No one but these grimy immigrants would reside there. Tuberculosis spread rapidly, and if you didn’t speak Yiddish you couldn’t easily navigate the neighborhood.

Over the next one hundred years their progeny became doctors, accountants, businessmen, judges, engineers… and yes, lawyers. Many of whom are now productive, upstanding, taxpaying members of society. In fact, I’m a great-grandson of Sam Fogle. The illegal immigrant.

Richard Viguerie, a conservative political consultant spoke at a conference I attended last week. Over breakfast we discussed many topics, one of which was illegal immigration, which he opposes, and President Trump’s tough stance on immigration, which he favors. When I expressed my sympathies towards today’s immigrants given my family history, he simply stated, “bending to illegal immigration and having wide open borders jeopardizes our sovereignty as a nation so I oppose it. You can’t allow outlaws.”

Explaining his view on why many don’t have a problem voicing opposition to hardline immigration policies, Viguerie quipped, “The left wants open borders because it leads to undocumented Democrats!”  Several others, all with differing views, participated in our breakfast conversation. No one expressed anger, and there was, in my opinion, an interesting, valuable and polite exchange of ideas.

I venture away from my normal estate planning topics today, for which I hope you forgive me, because I don’t believe, even in today’s heated political atmosphere, that we should shy away from political discussions on divisive subjects. I say this with the caveat that everyone show respect for one another, especially to those with differing views. Too often we all live in our own echo chamber, only listening to those with whom we agree. There’s value in listening to the other side.

The American system of government anticipates conflicting ideas. It’s why our country is so great. It’s only when we aren’t willing to respect one another, truly listen and look for common ground seeking compromise that our political system breaks down. Our system is imperfect in that no one usually gets everything that he or she wants. In a heterogenous melting pot society that’s actually a preferred outcome.

I feel fortunate that my ancestors had the guts to leave horrifying conditions to overcome, or even circumnavigate, political obstacles to reach their intended destination. They sacrificed so that their progeny two, three and even four generations removed could lead fruitful, productive and peaceful lives.

At the end of our conversation I asked Viguerie whether he believes we’re heading towards a civil war of sorts. “I believe we’re already in one.” He answered.

I certainly hope not.

© 2019 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.