Family legend has it that my maternal grandfather, Meyer Wool, was born sometime in the 1880s, in Kovno, Lithuania, in "the year of the big snow." Our family jokes it could have been any year, given the weather in Lithuania.
My grandfather’s family suffered through pogroms and, to escape antisemitism, he fled to London in the early 1900s. He ultimately landed in New York and opened a tailor shop on Lexington Avenue (which is now a deli, apparently). He married another immigrant from Kovno, my grandmother, Yetta Stark. For years, they corresponded with relatives left behind in Europe, before communication ended with the Holocaust.
My grandparents had three sons and a daughter- my mother, Lillian. As a young woman, my Mom was my grandfather's bookkeeper, and as I've mentioned before, crossed paths with his famous customers, which included the Oslers and the Cushings. In the summer of 1943, while vacationing in the Catskills, she met another immigrant's child, a jazz saxophonist named Raymond Siegel- my father. They married in 1946 and had four children- my sister, Diane, and three boys, Myron (named after my grandfather), my twin brother, Edward, and me. Fast forward to 1987, I married Heide Lang, the daughter of two Romanian Refugees who spent years after World War II wandering Europe, living hand-to-mouth and foraging for food. We have three children, Gabrielle, Isabella, and Francesca. It's clear that if America had not welcomed my grandparents, or Heide's parents, none of us would exist.
We have all been touched by a recent Executive Order barring specific groups from entering the United States. This order undermines the bedrock of America's traditional support for immigrants and refugees. The order affects many of us, both personally and professionally. As physicians, we commit ourselves to protecting the well-being of all patients, without regard to religion or national origin. We stand against racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. We agree to care for all patients who seek our help, without exception. Many of us volunteer to do more, caring for patients in the Yale Refugee and Asylum Clinics, traveling to work with colleagues in the developing world, and donating our time, money, and energies to organizations such as IRIS and the International Rescue Committee.
As physicians, we should never underestimate the power of our opinion when we stand up for the most vulnerable. I encourage each of you to consider the part you want to play at this crucial moment in history. I will speak out to honor the memory of my grandparents, who were welcomed into America and, like millions of immigrants from all backgrounds, races, and religions, returned the love, and used the opportunity to make America great.
If you are willing and able, please consider attending tonight’s candlelight vigil in support of immigrants and refugees at 6PM on the Yale Campus.