Listening to Financial Records

I’m processing the Finance Series of the larger HIAS collection. Within that series, the largest subseries is Grant Management.

Grant Management is, well, what it says on the label. HIAS, generally in cooperation with the Department of State and the UJA-Federation of New York, would award grants to Jewish organizations across the country, and those organizations in turn would use the money to resettle refugees. These organizations were typically branches of larger Jewish organizations such as the United Jewish Federation, the United Jewish Fund, the Jewish Family Service, and the Jewish Vocational Service. This pre-existing organizational structure of the US Jewish community allowed for HIAS’ resettlement efforts to be as effective as those of other, larger organizations.

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One of the record types to be found in the Grant Management subseries.

The record types in the Grant Management subseries consist of audits, tax forms, check and payment requests, accountant commentary, financial statements, financial status reports, organized by community, and spanning the years from 1990 to 2004.

While these records are overtly dull, taken together they weave a narrative. This narrative tells us where refugees were placed, what they needed, assistance types provided, and how HIAS oversaw and monitored the allocation of these funds.

The history of immigration is fascinating, and it is important to keep in mind that this isn’t just a history of movement and human displacement, but it is a history of the money which made those movements possible.

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Happy Hanukah from HIAS, 1964

How did HIAS say Happy Hanukah in 1964? The same way most non-profit organizations acknowledge holidays today – with a fundraising appeal.

HANUKKAH 1964 Membership Letter, November 30, 1964
HANUKKAH 1964 Membership Letter, November 30, 1964 (scanned from a blurry carbon copy)

This membership appeal for donations was signed by HIAS president Murray Gurfein. Gurfein was president from 1956 to 1957, and again from 1960-1967. A lawyer and in active service during WWII, Gurfein led accomplished professional and volunteer careers. An article in The Forward on March 18, 1956 details his involvement with the Nuremberg trials after WWII, and sums up his life up to that point: “Murray Gurfein helped prosecute the Nazi Leaders—He was decorated by three countries for his activities in the second world war … now he has been elected president of the United HIAS Service. He is a son of a Galician Jew …”

For many people, that would be a satisfying summation of a life well-lived. But there was more. Gurfein had a successful law practice for more than 30 years. And in 1971 he was appointed to the United States District Court by President Richard M. Nixon. More on Murray Gurfein and his first case on the Appeals Court next week.

It is easy to forget that 1964 was a year of increased migration due to “political and economic unrest in various parts of the world,” according to HIAS’ Hanukah letter. At the end of November 1964 HIAS forecast the number of refugees they resettled at a 70% increase over 1963. The “more than 51,000 Jewish men, women and children” helped by HIAS in 1964 included those from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Cuba, 23 persons from China and 11 from India. Access to information on emigration specifics will be available when the HIAS archives project is completed at the end of 2018.

We join Murray Gurfein in his closing, “With many thanks, and with hearty Hanukkah Greetings” from the HIAS project staff – Lawrence, Elizabeth, Janet and Susan.

Date Formatting in Business Correspondence, 1980

While processing 2 boxes of biographical files created by the Public Relations Department and the Executive Office, I came across a file with a very unusual format for the date.

Unusual date format
Unusual date format

Unusual also is the way the secretary formatted the initials at the bottom left, indicating the person who worded the correspondence and the person who typed it. In the words of our colleague Tanya Elder, “It looks like a secretary gone off the deep end.”

The Lewin-Epstein Family, and Other Leaders in the Jewish Community in early 20th Century New York

We recently learned of Marian Lewin-Epstein’s death on November 10. Familiar to me specifically because of her life-long involvement with Hadassah, Junior Hadassah and Hadassah-Israel and her presence in the Hadassah Archives, there is also a slim connection between Marian and HIAS: her husband’s grandfather E.W. Lewin-Epstein.

Marian grew up in Pennsylvania and became involved on the national level with Junior Hadassah after high school, in the 1940s. She can be found in the minutes of Junior Hadassah, attending meetings of the national board. She made aliyah to Israel after independence in 1948, and married Jacob Lewin-Epstein, a dentist at Hadassah Hospital like his father.

Jacob’s parents met aboard ship in 1918 as members of the American Zionist Medical Unit, funded through donations from Jewish communities throughout the United States, and organized by Henrietta Szold and the leadership of Hadassah in New York. The Unit left for Palestine as World War I was ending, in the summer of 1918, comprised of nurses, doctors, dentists, sanitarians and administrators and many tons of medical supplies including an ambulance donated by a Hadassah chapter. By the time the Unit arrived in Jerusalem, Madeline Epstein and Dr. Samuel Lewin-Epstein were engaged. Madeline’s memories of the trip can be found in her oral history. The business administrator of the Unit once it arrived in Palestine was Samuel’s father Eliahu Ze’ev (Wolf) Lewin-Epstein (generally referred to as E.W. Lewin-Epstein).

Madeline, E.W. and Samuel Lewin-Epstein in Palestine circa 1918
Madeline, E.W. and Samuel Lewin-Epstein in Jaffa, Palestine, circa 1918

E.W., born in 1864, was by the turn of the 20th century involved in the leadership of many Jewish and Zionist American organizations. A businessman, he also lived in Palestine at various times during his career. A brief and incomplete list of his involvements at the beginning of the 20th century include Vice-President of the Federation of American Zionists (predecessor to the Zionist Organization of America) (1907); served in some capacity in 1919 with the Zionist Commission to Palestine; treasurer of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs (1914-1916). A brief JTA article from 1923 lists E.W. as “European representative of the Remittance department”, presumably of HIAS. More information can be found in his New York Times obituary.

Listed in his 1932 obituary as a director of HIAS, he was also a member of the board of the National Refugee Service (NRS), which was in existence from 1933 to 1946 and whose work was eventually folded into HIAS.

E.W. Lewin-Epstein was among the handful of Jewish men (and fewer women) of his generation living in New York around the turn of the century, who became prominent leaders of relief and social service organizations, and Zionist organizations, such as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, HIAS, NRS, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The leaders listed as involved with the Provisional Executive Committee at the start of WWI are good examples: Louis Brandeis, Henrietta Szold, Louis Lipsky, E.W. Lewin-Epstein, Stephen Wise, Judah Magnes and Harry Friedenwald. Others, such as Solomon Lowenstein and William Rosenwald, can also be found funding and/or leading organizations. Working largely as volunteers in some capacity – financial, political – they were for decades the driving force in the rescue of Jewish refugees, in providing a better life for recent immigrants and the poor in New York and around the United States, and in helping to create an infrastructure in Palestine in anticipation of a Jewish homeland there.