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.
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.