At the end of the Vietnam War, many Vietnamese people began to flee the country. The exodus accelerated in 1978 as fighting intensified among Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cambodian forces. The refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos came to be known as Boat People because, in their desperation to escape from murderous regimes, they crowded onto packed, dangerous vessels. The vulnerable boats often fell under attack, and numerous refugees drowned. Despite the peril of the Boat People, some countries turned away the refugees. The United States eventually took in 823,000.
For Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, the story of the Boat People had particular resonance, as he still remembered when Jewish refugees attempting to flee from Nazi Germany by boat were also refused asylum. Moved to act, Rabbi Jacobs traveled to Southeast Asia and across the United States to coordinate resettlement of the refugees into American Jewish homes. The Jewish community, he recalls, “responded with open arms and open hearts.”
Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs is the founder of the Progressive Faith Foundation, which seeks to promote interfaith acceptance.