Buckle up. We are going on a journey. Well, two to be precise. Two immigrants’ journeys: Irving Berlin and Ilhan Omar.
Let’s begin with Irving Berlin as he arrived in the 19th century.
Irving Berlin was born Israel Isidore Beili and lived in Temun, Siberia. The family came to America to escape the Russian persecution of Jews. They arrived in New York in 1893, settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Irving, as he came to be known, was five when he arrived. He and his family had witnessed and survived a pogrom. For those unfamiliar with pogroms, here is some help.
The word pogrom comes from a Russian word meaning “to destroy, to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” The term was first used to refer to outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence by non-Jewish street mobs in the Russian Empire from 1881–1884. Pogroms continued to occur in the early 20th century and during and immediately after World War II in Eastern Europe, Germany and beyond. Though the precise characteristics of a pogrom vary widely depending on the specific incidents, a pogrom is generally considered to be a violent attack against a group based on their ethnic identity, and is mostly used to refer to attacks against Jews in 19th and 20th-century Europe.
Israel Isidore Beili changed his name to Irving Berlin. Did he change it so that he would feel more American? Be part of the America he came to love? Did he change it out of fear of being Jewish and not wanting others to know? He changed it. As have many Jews coming to America.
Widely considered one of the greatest composers and lyricists in American history with hits like “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “What’ll I Do” and “White Christmas” and film and Broadway musical work including Puttin’ on the Ritz, Easter Parade and Annie Get Your Gun, he is most celebrated for the iconic God Bless America.
He wrote it in gratitude to America for allowing his family safe harbour. He wrote it because he had lived through a pogrom and then the First World War and feared the rising of Nazi Germany and another war.
He composed “God Bless America” in 1918, while serving in the Army but it was not until Nov. 11, 1938, when Kate Smith sang “God Bless America” that the song was hailed as the new national anthem.
In 1940, both the Republican and Democratic parties adopted the song as their theme. Realizing that it would look improper to collect royalties on a patriotic ode, Berlin established a trust, the God Bless America Fund, which distributed all proceeds to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America.
But the song wasn’t without its critics.
“Certain Democrats called the song jingoistic, questioning why God should bless America and no other country, and what about separation of church and state? Others griped about Berlin’s pedigree. As a Russian Jew who immigrated to the U.S. in 1893, why should he speak for America? A prominent pastor in New York, Edgar Franklin Romig, grabbed headlines by calling the song a “specious substitute for religion.”
“As his daughter Mary Ellin Barrett said, “I came to understand that it wasn’t ‘God Bless America, land that we love.’ It was ‘God bless America, land that I love.’ It was an incredibly personal statement that my father was making, that anybody singing that song makes as they sing it. And I understood that that song was his ‘thank you’ to the country that had taken him in. It was the song of the immigrant boy who made good.”
And then we have the story of Ilhan Omar in the 21st century.
Ilhan Abdullahi Omar is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district since 2019.
In America she describes herself as a refugee overcoming racial and cultural barriers. Interesting that she felt the need to express those feelings when in the 19th century Berlin did not express his overcoming of racial and cultural barriers: and there were many. Antisemitism was always present and Jews coming from Russia faced many cultural barriers.
And she has been able to keep her name. Proudly.
But let’s pretend there are no questions at all about her arrival in America, or her marriages, or tax fraud. Let’s talk about her story as an immigrant.
Omar escaped from Somalia, which was in the middle of a bloody civil war, with her family, and fled to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps. She lived there from 1991 until 1995, aged eight to 12.
The Somalia she had left had been under siege.
Siad Barre ruled Somalia for 22 years. His reign was marked by increasing levels of corruption and brutality, economic and military misadventure and in its final stages, torture and murder. He was eventually ousted by his people and he fled Somalia on January 28, 1991.
In 1995 the family finally made it to America; as Irving Berlin’s family had done in the 19th century.
And there the similarities end.
While Berlin wrote of his love of, and gratitude for America, Omar attacks America and her allies.
She promotes discord; pitting one group against another. Perhaps she was exposed to that in Somalia during the vicious civil war.
In tweets she claimed that support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins” and that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has bought Israeli support in Congress, and referenced “hooked-nosed” Jews in a retweet.
Representative Ilhan Omar co-sponsored a resolution designed to support the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against the state of Israel a strong ally of America-the two countries sharing the same values, morals and ethics.
“Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” Omar wrote in a resurfaced tweet from 2012, according to the LA Times. “Some people did something,” was how Omar cited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people
She has promoted attacks on white men. “And so if fear was the driving force of policies to keep America safe — Americans safe inside of this country — we should be profiling, monitoring, and creating policies to fight the radicalization of white men.” Perhaps to deflect from the world wide terrorism from Islamists.
She seems to have a need to find fault with America-the “family” who took her in and is so open and welcoming that she was able to become a member of Congress!
I leave you with the words of Tucker Carlson. Listen to the message. You don’t have to like the messenger.
Our country rescued Ilhan Omar from the single poorest place on Earth. We didn’t do it for the money, we did it because we are kind people. How did she respond to the remarkable gift we gave her? Americans like immigrants, but immigrants have got to like us back. That’s the key, it’s essential. Otherwise, the country falls apart.
My father arrived in Canada when he was 13. Alone. He, too, had experienced a pogrom in Russia. Never ever did he have a bad word to say about the country that offered him a home.
How immigrants have changed over the centuries; from grateful to entitled.
From the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it.”