Family and friends packed the Tucson Jewish Community Center ballroom on Wednesday, July 26 as 99 new U.S. citizens from 17 different countries took the oath of allegiance.
“Having the honor to host this ceremony at the J is very meaningful,” Todd Rockoff, president and CEO of the Tucson J, told the crowd. “The JCC movement has a long history of being a place that is welcoming. The first Jewish Community Centers were founded more than a century ago to teach Jews, newly arrived as immigrants, how to become good Americans. We succeeded in that mission, and we have served this land proudly through the decades … As people continue to flock to our country today, seeking opportunity, safety, education and a chance to dream and better themselves within the American framework, the J remains an open and welcoming place.”
Judge Scott Gan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona presided over the naturalization ceremony, which included heartfelt and often tearful remarks from new citizens, family and friends. Pride and gratitude, opportunity and diversity were recurring themes.
One woman said she’d come to the United States with her husband to build “a better life for ourselves and our children and now for my grandchildren. …This country has been the best thing that has happened to me in my life.”
It was in Tucson, said one man, that he’d learned the words “’being kind’: being kind to others, seeing everybody as human beings, as brothers …as one.”
A son said, “My dad studied literally every single day” for the citizenship exam. “He dedicated his life for this.”
A daughter thanked her mother for allowing her to bring her children to the ceremony, so they could understand “that there is so much opportunity.”
Congratulating the new citizens, Gan said, “We are a country of immigrants. Each of you has traveled a different path and endured many hardships to reach not only this country but this point in your lives. Collectively, you are from many different backgrounds. You’ve successfully melted into one great nation with one predominant language and a common way of governing ourselves. But it continues to be our individuality that makes our nation such a great one. … I hope that each of you will hold onto your individual cultures, your beautiful languages, and your religious beliefs and celebrations.”
Gan added that citizenship affords two important rights and responsibilities. The first is to vote. “It’s the way you express your beliefs … and ensure that honest people become our leaders,” he explained. The second is to participate in the jury system, because “if you are ever involved in a situation where you are in court, you want someone like you to sit in judgment.”
“I want to thank each and every one of you for the vast richness that you bring to this country,” Gan concluded.
After the ceremony, Julie M. Hashi-moto, Tucson field office director with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the AJP the USCIS was glad to have such a large venue for the ceremony. In recent months, she says, there has been a huge influx of citizenship applications. In 2017, Tucson has been averaging 400 new citizens sworn in per month, double the number last year.
In February, the Jewish History Museum also hosted a naturalization ceremony (see azjewishpost.com/2017/at-jewish-history-museum-26-take-oath-of-citizenship/), which Hashimoto said was very helpful because of limited parking near the courthouse during Tucson’s annual gem show.
Rockoff noted that one of the first family members to offer remarks at the J, a man who had been naturalized many years ago “talked about being involved in the community and being a responsible citizen.” He surprised Rockoff by speaking “a lot about the J, and what the J is in the community by being open to all … it was beautiful, because it was so authentic.”
Each of the new citizens sworn in July 26 received a free guest pass to the J. Rockoff said he is “very open” to the J providing space for a naturalization ceremony at least once a year. “Absolutely. We would look forward to the next opportunity.”