What is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant?
A refugee is someone who has fled persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group, explained Mark Hetfield, president of Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. An immigrant is someone who is coming to join family, take a job or find a better life.
“The immigrant is coming to something. The refugee is fleeing something,” he said.
However, the landings are not that dissimilar, the obstacles and opportunities, the same.
Baltimore is home to a number of Peruvian immigrants such as Moises and Frida Fraiman and Eddy and Isaac Gheiler.
Frida said life in Peru was OK for the Jews. The community there started around the time of the Holocaust, when Jews fled Nazi Germany. They built a home — about 5,000 Jewish families — around synagogues and a day school. The Jews in Peru are free to be Zionists. Frida recalls meeting Golda Meir at the age of 12 or 13 and traveling to Israel with her parents at 17. When her third child was born in Baltimore in 1967, her Peruvian friends purchased Israel Bonds as a gift.
So why come? Life in Peru was only OK.
Moises, a surgeon, was frustrated by the socialist medical system.
“There was too much rationing in the care. … I saw people dying who should not have been dying,” Moises said.
The Fraimans came in 1961.
Eddy Gheiler wanted a better and safer life for her children.
“There were too many kidnappings [and a lot of crime]. It was not safe for the children. … We lived like one block from the Jewish school and we had to take them in the car. They could not walk because it was not safe. At that point, we decided we would try to come here, to Baltimore,” Eddy said.
The Gheilers came in 1986.
Both families sold their homes, secured passports and took planes straight to the U.S.
“If you wanted to leave you could leave. It was not forbidden,” Eddy said.
But there were challenges, such as learning a new language. Eddy Gheiler came with her parents, but they ultimately returned to Peru. She said the language was hard for them at their older age. Both parents died in South America in 1995.
Frida said it was hard to start out without her extended family. When the family first came to Boston, she was 19 and pregnant.
“It was hard to adjust to the new life. In Peru, I was always protected by my parents. Here, I had Moises, of course, but I was really on my own,” she said.
Eddy’s son, Mark, expressed similar sentiments. He told the JT it was hard for him on Friday nights when as a young teenager he could not be with his grandparents, something he had grown accustomed to in Peru.
The Gheilers and Fraimans both said Baltimore has an insular Jewish community, and it takes great effort to make friends and break in. But both feel they have been successful. Frida has even been president of her synagogue’s sisterhood.
“This country has endless opportunities. … This country offers everything — good, bad — and you have a choice of how to make your life here,” said Frida. “I think you really have to be a foreigner to appreciate this country.”