An Immigrant’s Tribute to America: Lessons Learned at the Candy Store Counter

Fifty years ago today, my family arrived in the United States. I am so deeply grateful for all the opportunities living in this country has given me and for the chance to serve clients I love working with! As part of my celebration, I am launching a fundraiser for HIAS. This organization paid for my family to immigrate here when we were expelled from Communist Poland. To thank HIAS for what they did for my family, I am donating $2760.14, the amount they paid to resettle us here in New York City. I am asking if you would please consider making a donation of $36 (the amount HIAS gave my family each day for food) or more. The link below will bring you to my fundraising page. Thank you in advance for your support!

HIAS FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN

I was just five years old when my parents, my younger brother and I got off the airplane at JFK Airport – finally reaching New York City after a five-month ordeal in which we, like many refugees today, were caught in the middle of political turmoil out of our control.

We left from Warsaw when the Polish Communist government launched an anti-Semitic campaign in 1968 that resulted in the displacement of 15,000 Jews. Our citizenship was stripped as we left for Vienna, where we waited to see which country would take us in. My 77-year-old grandmother got very sick during our five-month stay and died there before the U.S. allowed us to enter the country as political refugees in March of 1969.

I have never once taken for granted the privilege of immigrating to the U.S., and my identity as a proud immigrant has always been a driving force in my life. I grew up in the Bronx, where I attended public school in the 1970s. My father owned a candy store, and we lived in an apartment above it. To this day, I remember coming downstairs after dinner and doing my homework on the candy store’s counter while my father took care of customers. The store was open from 5am until 9pm, except on Sunday when my father closed it at 3pm so we could have family dinner at our local Chinese restaurant. Watching how hard my father worked instilled in me a work ethic that has been instrumental to my success.

I treasured the wisdom my father imparted to me during our talks in the candy store, especially his encouragement to set big goals for myself and to have the courage to go after them. I thought he was the smartest businessman in the world! At age 33, he had come to the U.S. with just $300, very little English, and a family to support. Yet, he somehow he provided exceptionally well for us. After surviving the Holocaust by hiding in Russia and our later expulsion from Communist Poland, he saw his children’s lives in America as ripe with opportunity to become educated, achieve our dreams, and contribute to our communities. He told me I could accomplish anything in this country if I put my mind to it – and he was right.

My evening visits to the candy store counter paid off. Despite the fact that neither of my parents had more than an eighth grade education, they provided me with a strong foundation built on working hard, dreaming big, and pushing through any challenges that stood in my way. I am proud to say that these messages resonated deeply and resulted in my being accepted to incredible educational institutions like Bronx High School of Science and Barnard College.

My parents taught me to live bravely by taking smart risks and to give back to help others. I have spent the last 30 years since graduating from Barnard helping people find jobs – not “taking them away,” as some people fear immigrants who come to our country will do. I started my career as a recruiter for investment banks and major law firms, and then, for the past 23 years as an entrepreneur. At the age of 33 – the same age my father was when he opened his candy store – I founded a premier search firm, where I have had the honor of placing more than 800 professionals into the largest law firms in our country and employing dozens of people.

As I look back on the past 50 years of my life, I am deeply grateful for all of the opportunities living in America has given me, and I am extremely proud of all the people whom I have helped to secure work. I realize how the lessons I learned as a child at my father’s candy store counter enabled me to be an example for other immigrants, for my three children, and for many of the professionals I have worked with. Today more than ever, I am grateful for America welcoming my family and me into the country at our time of need.

One response to “An Immigrant’s Tribute to America: Lessons Learned at the Candy Store Counter

  1. This is very moving. You are a prime example of the immigrant work ethic and the positive contributions immigrants have made, and continue to make, to this country.

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