A Real Mensch.
I’m told, from a small shtetl in Poland, Julius Burstein earned his way to America peddling buttons. All alone, leaving behind parents and siblings who later were murdered during World War II, he crossed the Atlantic on a ship aptly named the Abraham Lincoln.
He landed in New York with a dollar in his pocket and very limited English. It’s amazing to take such risk, to enter an unknown world off just “the promise of America,” secure only with the knowledge that there was no turning back.
Julius had just one address, of someone who had come from Ciechanów, living in Jersey, and had a business there. He didn’t really know the man, but it was his point of contact to get through Customs. Julius found this man, began working for him, and slowly but surely began building up a knowledge of the English language and American customs. He worked hard, saved money, and eventually he started his own business: a clothing store in one of the first “malls” in America.
Then, he helped others from his community back home make safe passage to New York, because just like the Obamas say:
“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”
This story is dear to me, but it is not unique. It is the story of America, of all of us. And so many people in this world continue to want nothing more than a shot at being American. Isn’t that wonderful?
But “the promise of America” has been compromised. To turn our eye on people now based on race, creed, “merit” — these voiceless Americans depend on us to protect them. I don’t know any religion that instructs you otherwise.
Julius’ parting wisdom to my father was that “people always need shoes.” It’s good business advice, sure, but now is the time to strap up some boots and get marching. Get organizing. Unite communities and do the most American thing we can: fight for basic rights and freedoms.
Josh is a curator for THE RESILIENCE.