Monday, February 13, 2017

Nachum Khannina, Refugee

Nachum Khannina
On April 23, 1891, the Jews of Moscow were expelled from that city and forced to move west, into a region knows as "the Pale of Settlement." The Pale, roughly the region between Imperial Russia and Austria-Hungary, was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791 to remove Jews from Russia entirely, unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion.

Forty-four days later, on June 6, 1891, my Great-Grandfather, Nachum Khannina*, journeyman tailor, paid 85 Kopecks to the Russian authorities of Vitebsk Gubernia (in the Pale, in what is now Belarus) for permission to travel to complete his training and receive certification as a master tailor.

Paperwork of "Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin"
His travel permit says, "By order of His Majesty, the Emperor Alexander Alexandrovich, the autocrat of all Russia... Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin,"* is authorized to travel for study. It is also specific that if he does not return to Vitebsk (and the Pale of Settlement) at the end of six months, he will suffer penalties under the law.

We are unsure of the route he took, but by 1894 he was known as Nathan Channen, of Boston, Massachusetts, and his family was with him. Also not known is if he had any paperwork or authorization to come to America before he arrived on his temporary travel-study permit.

The Channens: An American Family
We also don't know if Nachum/Nathan was new to being a refugee when he left Vitebsk in 1891. Did multiple generations of Khanninas make their home in the region? Or did they arrive there by way of evictions from deeper in Russia over the previous century, or just the previous four months?

What we do know is that he violated Russian law in traveling as far as he did, with no intention of returning. Nathan Channen and his family were refugees, as were each of my Great-Grandparents and Grandparents, who all came to America to escape Imperial Russian Pogroms, anti-Semitism, and the Pale of Settlement between 1890 and 1905.

They were all refugees. When I stand and march for refugees, it's for them, and the sacrifices they made, so that I could be a spoiled, privileged, American citizen. And I won't deny that opportunity to anybody else, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.

The five daughters of Nathan and Sophia Channen. On the right is my Grandmother, Ruth Channen Goldstein. May their memories be a blessing
 * Nachum Khannina or Nofush Hofushov Hanin? One his Yiddish name, the other Russian, both approximate transliterations.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit"

The quote that serves as the title for this post is from Tom Hayden, who passed away last October 23, shortly before the presidential election.

Many people today hardly remember the name. To some he was a mild-mannered, liberal state legislator, representing Santa Monica in the California Assembly and State Senate for a couple of decades. To some he was "that commie rabble rouser" - one of the Chicago Seven, who consorted with the enemy during the Vietnam War and caused riots here at home. To others he was just Jane Fonda's husband (between Roger Vadim and Ted Turner).

(Disclosure: Around 1983 or so, I went to work for Tom's organization, Campaign California, on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, as a political canvasser. We were working on clean air issues, and each afternoon we canvassers would get loaded into cars and taken to different areas around Los Angeles to go door-to-door, collecting signatures and checks to get Tom's work done.)

Since the election, and particularly since the inauguration of P45 (I can't quite bring myself to say his name), I've been thinking about Hayden, and that quote, "Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit" ...

At my age now, it's not the world we are to inherit that bothers me; it's the world we are to bequeath. A few weeks ago we had a small family gathering, and looking at the youngest, my two-year-old grand-niece, I couldn't help but to apologize to her for the mess the world - and our country - is in.

It is for her sake (and others of her generation) that I cannot give in to depression over the situation, or allow myself to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of insanity that is coming out of the White House. I will continue going to protests and speaking out in any way I can.

I may not make it to every rally. I won't be able to change my Facebook icon to go along with every challenge to democracy. There won't be time to blog, or even tweet, about each new outrage. But I will do all I can, and I will not sit idly by while the rights and lives of anybody are threatened - whether they are my friend, family, ally, or not.

They want to overwhelm us. They want to divide us. They want to make us choose whether we're going to defend the rights of immigrants, or women, or LGBTQ, or Muslims, or... just give up and watch the Constitution get trampled. I will not pick and choose. We all stand together or we perish together.

At the close of the Chicago Seven trial, each defendant was given a chance to make a statement. Tom Hayden said, "We would hardly have been notorious characters if they left us alone on the streets of Chicago," but instead "we became the architects, the masterminds, and the geniuses of a conspiracy to overthrow the government; we were invented."

The new administration is good at inventing enemies. A free press, doing its job of asking tough questions, is referred to as "the opposition party." A Judge - a conservative Judge, appointed by George W. Bush -  is referred to as a "so-called Judge" for ruling to uphold the rule of law.

So fine, I'm an enemy of this President, and I encourage you to be an enemy too.

As long as I'm writing about the Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial, let's talk about Hayden's partner, Abbie Hoffman. A nice, college educated, Jewish boy from Massachusetts. I can relate. In Hoffman's final words to the court, he said:

"I always wanted to change my plea. I had just a great urge to confess; say, 'I am guilty,' because I felt what the State was calling me was an enemy of the State and I am an enemy of the State ... [B]efore, you [Judge Hoffman, no relation] said, '... you could have had a nice position in the system, you could have had a job in the firm.' ... We don't want a job there, in that system. We say to young people, 'There is a brilliant future for you in the revolution. Become an enemy of the State. A great future. You will save your soul.'"

Save your soul, and possibly democracy and America: Resist.

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