'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses ...'


As you know from his November contribution to this blog, Tom has a passion for genealogy and dives headlong into research at Ancestry.com on both our families. Jain and Sofia are well aware of the heritage of both their mother and father, know all the countries where their ancestors lived, and brought that information to life by coloring in those countries on a blank world map last summer.

That activity led to lively discussion of where they would like to travel someday. Jain has a passion for Greece and "going to all the places where mythology happened." Sofia yearns to go to Paris and see the Eiffel Tower (she hopes to have her wedding ceremony beneath it!). We hope they get to fulfill their dreams one day, but this summer we're going to stick a little closer to home.

The surname Levy is found in Tom's mother's family. Her maiden name was Kelly, and that being a Celtic name Tom always figured Levy was perhaps shortened from the Irish McLevy or Scottish MacLevy. His cousin Susan, who also likes to see what bounty shakes from the family tree, discovered, instead, that the Levy family was Jewish. It was Levy and had always been Levy. And it was the maiden name of Tom's grandmother, whose father, Allen James Levy, a corporal in the Canadian Army, was killed in action in Belgium in World War I. Some time after his death, Tom's great-grandmother remarried and the family emigrated to Connecticut — coincidentally, perhaps, the very place ancestors of hers had left for Canada in the mid-1700s to farm land in Nova Scotia. Interesting that no one ever revealed any of this family history, if they even knew it.

Through the Levy family line, Susan also found they are related to the Lazarus family of New York City. Most famous among them was Emma Lazarus. Early in her life she was a writer and well-known poet. But once she became aware of the plight of destitute Russian Jewish immigrants coming into the city, she made it her mission to provide them with vocational training to become self-supporting.

Emma's literary skills attracted the attention of another well-known poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson. When the Statue of Liberty was erected, an auction to raise money for its pedestal was held. At Emerson's insistence, Emma submitted her sonnet, "The New Colossus." In choosing it as the winning poem, event organizers hoped it would "awaken to new enthusiasm" those who were working on the pedestal. Today, you can find the entire sonnet on the plaque, but most of us know well these lines that have lifted the hopes, dreams and spirits of so many U.S. immigrants:

"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!"

We are acknowledging and celebrating our daughter's and granddaughter's Jewish lineage — indeed, all our forbears — this summer by taking a trip into New York City and going to the Statue of Liberty. Standing next to the poem on the great lady's pedestal, we will most certainly take lots of pictures. Gazing up at her crowned head, torch held high, we will thank that other great lady, Emma, for her service to the poor and her inspirational, poetic guidance to those who came and continue to come ashore to make America their new home. After all, had it not been for brave souls who left their homeland to make their way in this one, no one in either of our families would be here today.