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Passover is a time of the year when if one is fortunate, as I am, he or she can thank the Almighty for the opportunity to celebrate the Passover Seder with his or her family. Yet unavoidably, since it is a holiday of family tradition, one cannot help but think of relatives who have passed away.
This year, ever since the Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh tragedy, I have spent literally some time every day thinking of my late father, Melvin Steinberg, who grew up in Squirrel Hill and symbolized for me the glory and beauty of that wonderful Jewish neighborhood.
Dad was a hardworking man of ethics, character, and dedication to family. He served as a men’s clothing manufacturer’s representative, and he travelled from place to place in Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Eastern Ohio.
One of the communities he most enjoyed visiting and selling was the central Pennsylvania community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. When he would return from a trip to Johnstown, he would always take a special pride in sales he made to the stores of the Glosser Brothers.
The Glossers were the ultimate Pennsylvania Jewish family of supreme goodness and greatness. Having emigrated from Belarus fleeing Czarist pogroms, the Glosser family established its first store in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1906, which grew over the years into a prosperous chain of department stores.
The Glossers were leaders in both the general community of Johnstown and the Jewish community as well. Their charitable works made them a universally beloved family.
Johnstown was typical of many Western and Central Pennsylvania iron, steel, and coal communities, which attained the height of prosperity in the early twentieth century only to sink into a permanent economic depression beginning in the second half of the 1970s. When permanent economic decline impacted these towns and cities, the thriving Jewish communities, which once typified these areas, literally vanished.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania was an archetypal example of these trends. In the early 20th century, the population of Johnstown exceeded 75,000, and the Jewish population was over 1,800. Today, the Johnstown population is approximately 20,000, and the population of this once most active and bustling Jewish community is less than 90.
In the early 1990s, the hard economic times resulted in the closure of the Glosser Brothers chains of stores. And former men’s clothing manufacturer’s representatives, like my father, were forced into an early retirement. Over the years, the members of the Glosser family moved out of Johnstown and resettled elsewhere, mostly in California and Florida.
Dad both venerated and identified with the Glossers because of his own immigrant heritage. His father, my grandfather, Archie Steinberg, fleeing Czarist persecution arrived in New York from Rozan, Poland in 1912. As he told my father, “I didn’t walk off the boat in New York Harbor – the bugs carried me off.”
Like the Glosser Brothers, Archie Steinberg had a dream of prosperity in the new world. Through hard work, he became the leading kosher butcher in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh.
Archie passed away in March, 1949. I was born in November of that year and was given his Hebrew name, Aryeh Yoel.
Dad passed away in August, 2011. No doubt, he would have been shocked that Stephen Miller, great-grandson of Sam Glosser, one of the founders of Glosser Brothers, would become the Suslov of the presidential administration of Donald Trump.
The name “Suslov” refers to Mikhail Suslov, the unofficial chief ideologue of the former Soviet Union Communist regime of First Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin who came to power in October, 1964 after leading the putsch that resulted in the ouster of the then First Secretary and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Since then, the term “ Suslov” has been utilized to refer to the chief ideologue of an authoritarian regime.
Donald Trump is unquestionably an authoritarian. Due to the strength of American institutions, he has been unable to institute an authoritarian regime.
Trump does, however, have a Suslov in the presence of Stephen Miller. He is both the formulator and communicator of Trump’s grossly inhumane and xenophobic immigration policy, including the separation of children from their parents at the Mexican border, the prohibition of entry to America of refugees fleeing violently oppressive Central American regimes, and the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Stephen Miller’s uncle, Dr. David S. Glosser is a retired neuropsychologist: formerly a member of the Neurology faculties of Boston University School of Medicine and Jefferson Medical College. Dr. Glosser wrote a column for Politico, published in August, 2018, entitled “Stephen Miller Is an Immigration Hypocrite. I Know Because I’m His Uncle.” (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/08/13/stephen-miller-is-an-immigration-hypocrite-i-know-because-im-his-uncle-219351)
In the column, Dr. Glosser repudiated the immigration views of his nephew. He noted that the Glossers had emigrated to America as refugees fleeing Czarist pogroms in their native Belarus. Dr Glosser stated, “If my nephew’s ideas on immigration had been in force a century ago, our family would have been wiped out.”
My father would doubtless have stated that the evil actions of Stephen Miller in no way negate the essential goodness of the Glosser family. And Dad would have been right.
I must, however, as we Jews come to the end of Passover note that the despicable immigration policies of Trump and Stephen Miller constitute a repudiation of essential Jewish values. Specifically, one must remember the words of the Book of Exodus, Chapter 23, verse 9, “Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Any Jew who condones the xenophobic and inhumane Trump/ Miller immigration policies is acting in direct contravention of an essential message of our Torah.
This essential Jewish value of openness to immigration was best typified by the magnificent American Sephardic Jewish poet, Emma Lazarus, in her poem, “The New Colossus” whose words appear at the base of the Statue of Liberty(https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46550/the-new-colossus)
Steven Miller should read this poem. He should remember these words of the poem which greeted the Glosser family:
“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!”
At the Passover Seder, our text, the Haggadah speaks of four sons, the wise son, the wicked son, the simple son, and the son who is unable to ask. The wicked son is one who denies basic principles of Judaism.
I do not know Stephen Miller personally, so I cannot say if he is a wicked person in the sense that we define the word “wicked.” But there is no doubt that his repudiation of the Jewish principle of openness towards immigrants is a wicked deed and qualifies him to be the wicked son at the Passover Seder.
I have to wonder sometimes if Stephen Miller confuses the name of Moses, the leader of the Children of Israel, with the name Mosley, the last name of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British fascists before and during the Second World War.
Xenophobia and anti-immigration beliefs constituted an essential credo of Oswald Mosley. Wittingly or unwittingly, in his conduct as a public official, Stephen Miller is following in the ways of Mosley rather than Moses.
That is why American Jews, at this time of Passover, must repudiate the immigration policies and deeds of Stephen Miller, as his uncle, David Glosser has done.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.