I first met Alejandro Mayorkas nearly two decades ago when he was an attorney with the international law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
This was well before his rise to national prominence. He came to visit me in my office at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. We each spoke of our memories, our histories, and our hopes as fellow Americans and fellow immigrants. I still recall how Alejandro lingered before the framed photographs and letters on the walls, remembrances of my family who perished in the Holocaust. I was deeply moved by his identification with them, and his expression of respect for their memory.
On Nov. 23, President-elect Joe Biden named Alejandro Mayorkas, a son of Jewish Cuban refugees, to be our nation’s next Secretary of Homeland Security. Secretary-designate Mayorkas will now oversee the protection of immigrants and all Americans who flee persecution in search of a better life for themselves and their families.
Like Alejandro, I have always been grateful for America’s hospitable embrace. I am myself an immigrant to these shores, having arrived from Israel as a young boy in 1954. My parents were refugees from Nazi Europe, as was Alejandro’s mother, who fled Romania for refuge in Cuba, where she met and married Alejandro’s father, a Sephardic Jew.
I have always been moved by Ali’s words of memory, respect, and affection for his dear parents, who did not live to see the day when their beloved son returned to Havana as a representative of the American government, and then rise to a member of the President’s Cabinet.
What it would have meant to them, what surpassing pride and joy it would have given them, to witness this moment, to share this journey! Knowing Ali, I am sure the joy his parents must feel is with him always—in mind, in heart, in the depth of character and integrity they bequeathed to him.
To know that my friend and fellow immigrant has now been charged with such an enormous responsibility—to defend against irrational hatreds, to seek justice and show compassion for those so greatly in need of them—is a great comfort to me and to all who know what can happen when justice and compassion falter.
While I am concerned about the deep partisan divisions that afflict our society in these trying times, I remain steadfast in my faith that a vital and representative democracy undergirds our values as a nation. As imperfect as we are, we strive for a better world. I rejoice in the assurance that the leadership and vision of Alejandro Mayorkas will help bring that world ever nearer.
Rabbi Uri Herscher is the founder of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.