Program Recap: At Lunch with Mark Hetfield

December 4, 2023
by Rebeca Miller

This program originally aired on December 4th, 2023 at 12:30pm ET.

Julie Salamon (Author and Journalist) sat down with the President and CEO of HIAS, Mark Hetfield. Mark spoke about the history of HIAS, from its founding on February 14th, 1903, as an organization that assisted Jewish immigrants as they arrived in New York City to its role today as an international NGO that provides refugee assistance to people with a variety of backgrounds and faiths. Due to restrictive U.S. immigration laws in 1921 and 1923, HIAS was propelled to expand its work and began to operate internationally. They have been involved in refugee resettlement and assistance programs in South America, Asia, and Europe in addition to the United States. In 2013, under Mark’s leadership, HIAS transitioned from being an organization that “helps refugees because they were Jewish to helping refugees because we are Jewish.” Mark celebrated the staff of HIAS, over 2,000 workers worldwide, for their devotion to Jewish and Humanitarian values and the pursuit of ending the world refugee crisis of 108 million displaced persons. A core value of HIAS is the Jewish value, “welcome the stranger,” a sentiment repeated 36 times in the Torah, more than any other command.

Mark additionally spoke about worldwide negative anti-immigrant sentiments and misinformation that leads to xenophobic thinking. He cited the poor international response to the ongoing crisis, and the persistence of closed-door policies and lack of government intervention that contribute to its escalation. He challenges the thinking that refugees are a burden, as all research and personal experience tells him that they are a blessing.

Topics covered in this program: Immigration history, Jewish values, humanitarian values, immigration visas, mental health services, integration, UN NGO Security Council, International humanitarian law, Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, United Nations, Levant, Palestine, Israel, 2017 Travel Ban.

View the finding aids for the HIAS collections stewarded by AJHS and YIVO.