We Probably Planted Your Family Tree: a HIAS Awareness Campaign

HIAS’ Campaigns comprise an important part of the HIAS collection, and an important part of the Public Affairs/Relations Department’s work. While, of course, many of HIAS’ campaigns had fund-raising goals, others were put in place in order to raise awareness about HIAS as an organization, to attract volunteers, and to educate the general public about immigration law, and to raise support for HIAS’s legislative goals.

As I was processing HIAS’ Campaign materials, I came upon a 1990 advertising campaign developed by the Korey Kay and Partners advertising agency.  The purpose of this campaign was to raise awareness of immigration issues, to boost HIAS’ name recognition, and to raise support for the organization’s legislative goals.

In our collections is Korey Kay and Partner’s creative presentation of the ads created for this campaign, along with copies of a few others not included in the presentation.

Below are four of my favorite ads developed for this campaign.

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“Survey of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society”

One document that turned up recently is the “Survey of Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society”.

What was the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society? The organization that is today known as “HIAS” was formed in 1902 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, bringing together older organizations with similar missions – that of aiding Russian Jewish immigrants as they arrived in New York.

Seven years later, in 1909, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, already commonly known as HIAS, merged with the Hebrew Sheltering House Association, which had been formed in the 1880s with a similar mission. The newly merged organization incorporated both names into “Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society”. The “sheltering” part of the name was an important addition to the HIAS name; it referred to the fact that HIAS provided new immigrants with temporary shelter in a clean and safe environment when they first arrived. The HIAS constitution, according to the report of the Shelter Committee in the 1914 annual report, clearly defined HIAS’s duties in this regard: to “grant shelter or other aid to wayfarers as well as to immigrants”. HIAS maintained a shelter well into the 1950s, at its main office on Lafayette Street in Manhattan.

Survey of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society
Survey of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society

The survey was conducted by the Field Bureau of the National Conference of Jewish Charities (NCJC), probably in early 1918. No date is listed on the survey itself, but it makes reference to “the Great War”, and to when “immigration will pick up after the war is over”, leading us to a date on the folder of “circa 1918”. NCJC itself merged in 1918 with a social workers association. Not much is easily available about NCJC, other that that in 1900, United Hebrew Charities, a forerunner of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in NYC, was a constituent association of NCJC.

Now located within the Executive office subject files, the survey provides a detailed snapshot of HIAS during WWI. It begins with a history of the organization and looks at every department and the functioning of the departments and staff. It is clear that HIAS in the earliest years of the 20th century was driven by goals that, in broad terms, were not very different from the goals of HIAS today. Advocating for immigrants and coordinating efforts with affiliates overseas have always been the focus of HIAS’ work.

The following, from early in the survey, gives meaning not only to HIAS’ history but to the relevance of our archives project, a tool by which we are able to rediscover HIAS’ history: “This Survey deals primarily with current conditions, methods, activities, policies, etc., but it uses, for its background, the past, the evolution and history of its policies, methods and activities, and has in view its future needs and development.

“The status of a social agency depends, to a large degree, upon its historical setting. Much is to be ascribed to origins. The circumstances under which an institution comes into being, the motives and conditions that prompt its establishments, and the personality of its initiators and early supporters play an important part not only in the make-up of the organization, but also in the limits to which suggestions looking for future improvement are practical.”

The survey, with brittle pages and lacking an index, is a prime candidate for digitization, should funding be made available.



PR stories from London Office, 1952

Earlier this year I worked on about a box and a half of Ben Touster files from the first two years he was president of HIAS, 1952-1954. The files that survived long enough to make their way to the HIAS archives appear random, and pre-date most of the HIAS files that are part of our project. Perhaps these files survived an earlier purging. Or perhaps, like other lay leaders, much of Touster’s HIAS work was done at home, or he had his files sent home after his presidency. Or, also like other lay leaders, he may have directed the organization and led the board of directors, but left the paperwork to the paid staff.

Unfortunately we have so far in this project identified only a few other boxes of files from the Executive Office from the early 1950s; with the merger in 1954 of HIAS with USNA to form United HIAS Service, it is possible that many files were inadvertently lost or destroyed.

Touster’s files include a thick one on HIAS founder John L. Bernstein, and two files of financial reports. And 13 files, over a third of the total Touster subseries, deal with HIAS offices – international offices in Canada, Africa, Australia, Europe, Israel and South America, as well as offices in major cities in the United States – Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington. These files are filled mostly with correspondence and reports to and from each of the offices.

One particularly interesting memorandum found in the Europe office file was sent to Touster by Martin A. Bursten, then the Director of HIAS’s Public Relations department in New York. Written in a breezy 1950s style it is marked “personal”.

Marty Bursten lists PR stories learned in London office
Marty Bursten lists PR stories learned in London office, 1952

Bursten recaps some of the stories he has seen and heard first hand by spending some time in the London office of HIAS. He “studied the files and listened to the cases being handled”, and exclaims, “If anybody … ever tells me that there is nothing doing here, I’ll wave my notes violently to belie the claims.”

He briefly describes the work of the London office, primarily supplying funding or help with visas for people trying to join relatives in America, Canada or Israel. “I am taking pictures of these people today in their homes, and here in the office. THIS IS WHAT MY DEPARTMENT WILL LIVE ON IN THE MONTHS TO COME.”

In a way, that statement in caps sums up what HIAS was doing in those post-WWII years, helping people reunite with relatives or simply get started in a new country. Although few in number, the Touster files give us a snapshot of that work.

I’ll end with Bursten’s post script: “P.S. This cockney typewriter should apply for a HIAS pension!”