The 1993 Los Angeles Membership Campaign

The HIAS Membership Department was responsible for running fundraising appeals through the mail. These fundraising appeals were known at the agency as membership campaigns. In today’s blog post, we’ll take a look at what was involved in organizing and executing a campaign, using the records of the 1993 Los Angeles appeal as a kind of case study.


In June of 1993, Carolyn Agress, Director for Membership Services & Women’s Division, wrote to HIAS board member Judith Sommerstein to follow up on their conversation at the recent Annual Meeting.  It seems they had discussed membership campaigns, with Sommerstein expressing interest in participating.

In the letter, Agress explained how these campaigns worked:

  • The Membership Department would first provide the board member with a copy of the solicitation letter (the “ask”) for that year.
  • The board member would edit the solicitation letter if they saw fit, in order to tailor it to the concerns and issues of their community. The final version would be signed by the board member.
  • The board member would provide HIAS with the names and addresses of personal and professional contacts they wanted to solicit.
  • HIAS would add these names to the list of members in the board member’s geographical region.
  • HIAS would have the letters printed and sent out, along with a membership dues form and a return envelope.

Letter from Agress to Sommerstein:

This appears to be the solicitation letter Agress included, sent back with Sommerstein’s comments on front and back:








The records include memos and notes about the logistics of carrying out the campaign, such as this one dated August 18, 1993:

On August 19th, Agress sent Sommerstein another copy of the solicitation letter, which Sommerstein sent back with comments:







(It was not typical that HIAS would request comments on the solicitation twice; this seems to be an aberration, or we may just not have all the information about what happened.)

This appears to be the final draft of the text:

The letters that actually went out included the name and address of the member, as well as a personal salutation, as in the earlier draft. HIAS provided the printing company with a copy of the board member’s signature to place in the closing.

In September, the Membership Department sent Sommerstein an update on the results of the campaign. Many of the campaign files contain computer reports on how the campaign did, and sometimes multiple updates would be sent to the board member, but for Los Angeles in 1993, there’s just this one:

The last step was for the Membership Department to send thank you letters for the donations, whether from a new or renewing member.

Then the next year, the whole process would be repeated, with the board member adding new names to their list, and often crossing out those of any friends who had passed away. Not all board members participated in campaigns year after year, but many did. Those records are very interesting for learning about board members’ devotion to the mission of HIAS, the relationships of mutual respect they developed with Carolyn Agress and other staff, and the tireless efforts to craft the most effective “asks” possible.


Archival documents referenced in this post may be found in the 104 Los Angeles campaign files under Development—Membership—Campaigns. Final box number will most likely be 0297.


HIAS Council of Organizations

The HIAS collection contains a limited number of files from the Fundraising Department. These files are being processed now, and as we learn more about fundraising techniques in the second half of the 20th century we will write about it in a blog post and in the finding aid that will be available at the end of the project.

One small group of files, photographs and printed material is from the HIAS Council of Organizations, which seems to have been successful in the post-World War II years in New York. The Council apparently thrived in a number of Jewish organizations in the 1950s-1970s. I first learned about the Council of Organizations while processing the UJA-Federation of New York collection; the following is from the historical note from that finding aid:

The Council of Organizations, a department within the Fundraising and Campaigns division of UJA of Greater New York, organized Yiddish-speaking community-based councils (similar to Landsmanschaften) into fundraising groups. These groups raised money for specific UJA projects in Israel. Many of the projects included funding the building of new schools, medical facilities, libraries, playgrounds, community centers and other public buildings. Joseph Masliansky was the Director of the Council of Organizations in approximately the 1970s through 1982.

The Council of Organizations files from HIAS are not yet refoldered and arranged, but a 4-page history of the Council at HIAS from 1954 provides a snapshot view of its size and involvements at mid-century, which was probably written by the longtime head of the Council, Louis Gallack:

History and Description of HIAS' Council of Organizations, 1954
History of HIAS Council of             Organizations, 1954, page 1
History, page 2
History, page 3
History, page 4

Ted Kennedy, HIAS, and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

Early in his political career, Senator Edward M. Kennedy advocated for the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which changed the immigration quota system from one based on national origins to one based upon the immigrant’s skills and family connections to United States citizens or permanent residents. In the wake of this, a Protocol to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which had protected refugees crossing international borders who had suffered persecution in Europe prior to January 1, 1951, was signed on January 31, 1967.

1967 Protocol for Refugees
Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, published in December 1966

The United States acceded to the Protocol on November 1, 1968 at a ceremony at the United Nations, which was attended by Gaynor I. Jacobson representing the United HIAS Service (UHS) and the American Council of Voluntary Agencies (ACVA). Jacobson was one of 45 representatives of American voluntary agencies, ethnic and immigration organizations, and labor unions who supported the United States’ accession to the Protocol.

1968 U.S. Accession of Protocol
Letter sent to the HIAS Board in preparation for a board meeting, November 12, 1968

The 1967 Protocol afforded refugee status without regard to the time or location of persecution. This was particularly important as new refugee situations continued to develop all over the world after 1951.  HIAS would continue to take an active role in numerous subsequent refugee crises in the decades following the Protocol. Senator Kennedy was involved with issues and legislation related to immigration and refugees for his entire career and had a long correspondence with Gaynor I. Jacobson, HIAS’ Executive Vice President from 1966-1981, regarding this work, which can be traced through Jacobson’s professional correspondence.

Ted Kennedy
Unidentified man, James P. Rice, Senator Ted Kennedy, Gaynor I. Jacobson, circa 1968


Attention: Important San Diego Area News

In November of 1990, a small contingent of HIAS officials traveled from New York to San Diego for three days of events with the local Jewish community. The purpose of the trip was to increase awareness of HIAS in the area, brief the community on the agency’s work with Soviet Jews, and launch a membership drive. Records of these activities, including memos, itineraries, newspaper articles, correspondence, and budgets, exist in the files of Carolyn Agress, then the Director of Membership Services and the Women’s Division.

The officials were:

  • Ben Zion Leuchter, HIAS President
  • Karl D. Zukerman, Executive Vice President
  • Deborah Mark, Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President

The plan was to meet with San Diego Jewish community leaders, the staff of local Jewish volunteer organizations, and members of the Soviet Jewish émigré community to bring them up to date on what HIAS was doing for Jews from the USSR.

The schedule included:

  • A briefing on Soviet émigrés at the Jewish Community Center at 4079 54th Street.
  • A presentation for the Downtown Breakfast Club of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County, held at the University Club at 750 B Street.
  • A dessert reception for the San Diego Jewish Community Relations Council, San Diego Federation, and Jewish Family Services of San Diego, at the home of HIAS board members Linda and Shearn Platt.

The HIAS group also met individually with the staffs of Federation and Jewish Family Services.


HIAS hoped to attract the attention of the local press, preparing a press kit in advance. The kit included a biography of Ben Zion Leuchter and an abbreviated description of the process by which HIAS assisted Soviet Jewish refugees to immigrate to the US.

BZL bio:

“Moscow Processing for Soviet Jews” (click to enlarge):

Ads were placed in the San Diego Union, San Diego Jewish Times, and San Diego Heritage.


Articles appeared in the San Diego Jewish Times, the Southwest Jewish Press, and the San Diego Union.

HIAS needs members to act as advocates, to impress upon their congressional delegates the importance of refugees.

Ben Zion Leuchter,

quoted in the San Diego Jewish Times, 11/23/90

Leuchter told the Southwest Jewish Press that only 40,000 Soviet Jews annually were being accepted in the United States as refugees, while perhaps five times as many headed for Israel each year.

To say, ‘Let them live wherever they want to,’ we know damn well because of their lack of Jewish association historically over the last 70 years, it is natural, perfectly natural, for a Soviet Jew to live where he thinks the best economic opportunity is, so he is going to choose the United States. I think American Jewry is saying, ‘Hey, we waited 2,000 years for a Jewish state, and we know how desperately Israel needs people and this is the reason for the founding of the Jewish state, to be able to take in people from a land of distress.’

Ben Zion Leuchter,

quoted in the Southwest Jewish Press, 11/23/90


Immediately following the trip, HIAS conducted a membership campaign mailing in conjunction with the San Diego Federation. The following letter went out to 16,000 Federation member families:

A letter from Carolyn Agress to Leslye Lyons of the Jewish Community Relations Council, sent November 23rd, noted that returns had started coming in the week prior, and looked “very good.” Agress noted that it was too soon to predict results, but from the feedback HIAS had received, signs pointed to the campaign being a success.


Archival documents referenced in this post may be found in the 090 San Diego campaign files under Development—Membership—Campaigns. Final box number will most likely be 0297.