Refugee Politics and a Tale of Two Thanksgivings

Anxious Bench | 11/15/2018 | Staff
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“Fleeing for Liberty,” 1975. Museum Object 1981.118; “Fleeing for Liberty”; 1975; Artifacts Relating to the Life and Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, 1977 – 2016; Collection GRF-MCOLL: Gerald R. Ford Museum Collection, 1977 – 2016; Gerald R. Ford Museum, Grand Rapids, MI.

Nearly forty years ago, a minister, a rabbi, and two priests went to the White House, and together with the President and other religious leaders, they planned a special series of Thanksgiving observances. Their Thanksgiving events, however, did not feature turkey feasts and English Pilgrims. Rather, the Thanksgiving they planned called for fasting and church fundraisers to collect money to aid Southeast Asian refugees.

Year - Crisis - Asia - People - Vietnam

The year was 1979, and a humanitarian crisis was unfolding in Asia. “Boat people” were escaping Vietnam in droves, while Hmong and Lao refugees were fleeing the Pathet Lao. In neighboring Cambodia, Pol Pot had fallen from power that year, after killing a fifth of the Cambodian population, and those who had managed to survive were starving and seeking refuge in Thailand.

After a day of meetings, the religious leaders held a press conference with President Jimmy Carter. After announcing his plans to increase government spending on refugee relief and resettlement, President Carter urged religious communities across America to “match the government effort” and give generously to refugee aid groups. “I ask specifically that every Saturday and Sunday in the month of November, up until Thanksgiving, be set aside as days for Americans in their synagogues and churches, and otherwise, to give generously to help alleviate this suffering,” he said.

Leaders - Call - Rabbi - Bernard - Mandelbaum

Religious leaders reiterated his call. Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum proposed a Thanksgiving dinner where Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish people would gather to eat “what a typical Cambodian eats on a day when he’s starving.” His suggestion for an interfaith Thanksgiving feast where people would eat close to nothing was...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Anxious Bench
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