Swimming for Refugees, Part 1

In 2003, my family went to Lithuania to see the place where our people were murdered. We went with a tour group, other Jewish Americans doing the same thing. For part of the trip, the group traveled together to see the major killing sites — Ponar, the Ninth Fort — and for part of the trip each family traveled to their own sites, where their own relatives had lived and died.

Going to see these sites changed the way I see everything. You go to these places, and they are so ordinary. You stand on a street in front of a house, and someone says to you, “This is where Jacob was shot.” You go to a green park where kids are riding bikes, and someone tells you, “A hundred thousand people were murdered here.”

My great-grandmother and most of her children were killed in 1941. Now this world is in the midst of the worst refugee crisis since that time. 65 million people around the world have been displaced from their homes, ordinary people escaping war, persecution, disaster.

If you’ve been to the 10 Mile Swim blog before, you know that I’ll swim long distances for no more than the promise of a friend waiting for me at the end. But for the first time, I’m swimming for more than myself. On June 4th, I will swim 9.2 miles at the Chattanooga Swim Fest as a fundraiser for HIAS, the international refugee agency of the American Jewish community. Founded in 1881 to help Russian and Eastern European Jews escaping from pogroms, today HIAS helps refugees of all ethnicities and faiths, in the United States and around the world.

Please support my swim with a donation to HIAS. You can learn more and donate at my personal fundraising page. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Swimming for Refugees, Part 1

  1. Our families were refugees, too. My grandmother was from Lithuania also, one set of grandparents were from Russia (Minsk and Odessa) and my grandfather left Russia as an infant and was raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. Because they wanted to ‘be 100% American’ they didn’t speak of their pasts, except for being so thankful that America allowed them to settle here. Some family members were not so lucky-President Roosevelt closed the borders to them and they went to Canada and even Cuba! Eventually, they all made America their home.

    Thank you Melinda for bringing awareness of HIAS, Steve and I support you and have made a donation. We have shared your story with friends and family.

    1. Wow! That’s great that you know their stories. My family felt the same way: we were Americans, and we weren’t going to talk about the past. I am so thankful that your people and my people made it here in their need! I hope we can help others like them today.

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