Memorial Fund Benefits Legal Programs for Displaced People in U.S.

By Ayelet Parness

Terry Dudnick Taffer holds her grandson, Henry Taffer. | New Memorial Fund Supports HIAS' Legal Work in the U.S.

Terry Dudnick Taffer, a longtime supporter of HIAS' work, holds her youngest grandson, Henry Taffer. A year after her untimely passing, her family has set up a fund in her memory to benefit HIAS' legal protection programs in the United States. (Courtesy of the Taffer family)

Each year, Terry Dudnick Taffer would ask for just one thing for her birthday: donations to HIAS. Now, one year after her unexpected death, Terry’s children are continuing that legacy by establishing a new fund in her memory to benefit HIAS’ legal programs in the United States.

Terry, whose children describe her first and foremost as a devoted mother, sister, and grandmother, was just 73 years old when she passed away in March 2022. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1948, she was a lifelong learner with a particular interest in languages, cultures, and the arts. After teaching French for many years, first at a high school and then at Seton Hall University, she later worked for the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), where she planned cultural events.

“She instilled in my sister and me a spirit of generosity, empathy, and philanthropy,” said her son, Andrew Taffer. “She was always concerned about helping those less fortunate than she was.”

Accordingly, Terry channeled her passions and her many years of teaching experience into ways to give back to the community. In addition to tutoring people around the world in English, she volunteered as a docent in art museums and mentored young artists from Cuba.

“She was one of the most curious people I’ve ever met,” said her son-in-law, Ian Kearns. “She was curious about the world and about people. If you spent a day with her, no doubt, she’d end up talking to a couple of strangers.”

“And if you’re really curious about the world, it would be hard not to stumble on a passion for refugees and immigration,” added her daughter, Fran Taffer. “Her interest in HIAS fits with her lifelong learning — the world is always changing and HIAS always seems to be there, evolving programs and policies to meet this new world.”

"The world is always changing and HIAS always seems to be there, evolving programs and policies to meet this new world."

Fran Taffer

Terry moved from New York City to Washington, D.C. in 2020 in order to live closer to Andrew and his family. Despite moving to a new community at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she quickly became involved in Adas Israel Congregation and the local art scene. When the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in 2022, she worked to learn about the conflict and understand what people in the United States could do to help.

“My mom believed in the basic principles that HIAS promotes, like welcoming the stranger, particularly in the United States,” said Andrew. “She believed that the U.S. had a largely admirable history of welcoming refugees. In our own family history, the U.S. opened its doors to my grandmother when she was fleeing Nazi Germany. We all wouldn’t be here if not for that.”

Terry’s mother, Jeanette Dudnick, immigrated from Germany as a teenager in 1937. At the time, Jewish Germans were subject to both antisemitic laws and social ostracization; before she left, Dudnick’s teachers had begun refusing to mark her papers because she was Jewish. After being sponsored by a cousin, Dudnick was able to immigrate to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Her parents joined her in 1939 after her father’s store was ransacked during Kristallnacht.

A photo of Jeanette Dudnick (second from left) and her father, Leizer Lander (far left). Family lore holds that this photo was taken on the boat that transported Dudnick to the United States in 1937. (Courtesy of the Taffer Family)

But this shared history and Terry’s love of HIAS were not the only reasons the family has chosen to benefit HIAS with this fund.

“It was no accident that my mom supported HIAS, because HIAS has all these fantastic qualities that my mom shared,” said Andrew. “The principles and the ideals that HIAS seeks to advance in the world are core to who she was. She was understanding, kind and giving. She was worldly, and wanted to help people around the world. She had the same generosity of spirit that animates HIAS’ mission.”

The Terry Dudnick Taffer Memorial Fund will benefit HIAS’ legal protection programs in the U.S., a vital area of the organization’s work that helps displaced people navigate the complex legal systems needed to access legal status. These programs range from informing people of their rights and responsibilities within these systems to providing full legal representation to clients in asylum and immigration proceedings.

“There is a great demand for the legal services that HIAS provides, which has been exacerbated by an unprecedented number of refugee and immigration-related crises in recent years,” said Smita Dazzo, HIAS senior director for legal and asylum. “We are so grateful to the Taffer Fund for allowing us to better meet the needs of those who have come to the United States seeking safety from persecution.”

The fund is designed to continue supporting HIAS’ legal work until 2048 — the year that Terry would have turned 100.

“This way, she will continue all the good things she did in the world until an age to which we wish she would have lived,” said Andrew.

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