In 1995, the HIAS Communications department held a poster contest for Russian emigre youth to artistically express their feelings about their new country. The theme was “What America Means to Me.” One grand prize winner would receive an all expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. with two family members. Three runners up would receive a special award. Twelve finalists received certificates of achievement and had their posters included in the 1996 HIAS calendar. All participants received a certificate of appreciation.
The following year, the contest was expanded to all immigrant children, and an annual tradition began.
For the 2000 contest, children were invited to look ahead to the 21st century, consider the values they felt America should support in the new millennium, and draw or paint a symbol that expressed their ideas. The winning posters would be printed in the 2001 agency calendar.
2001 was to be a special year, for it marked 120 years of HIAS’ work rescuing more than four million refugees and migrants, transporting them from oppression and persecution and delivering them to places of safe haven. The number was significant because of a common Jewish endearment: “May you live to be 120,” the age of Moses when he died.
Following is a selection of winning artwork from the 2000 contest.
Rostislav from California, age 11:
On the background of the earth is drawn my symbol of America in the 21st century. This is the sailing ship that is bringing peace, freedom, and progress to the people of the world as a remembrance of the first religious freedom ship, Mayflower.
-Rostislav, age 11
Edward from California, age 10:
My drawing shows an astronaut making peace with an alien. My symbol means that we should not only take care of our country, but our world, too. There might be other life forms out there. It also shows the future hope that if we can make peace with an alien, we should try to make peace between each other.
-Edward, age 10
Aleksandra from Ohio, age 14:
On the left side of the flag, Aleksandra included the message: “Our home is here — our home will be in the other worlds.”
Aleksandra’s 12 year old sister sister Anna also participated in the contest:
It is on the river of time in the boat of love and care looking to the future. I thought of that because there is no life without tomorrow. We have to be prepared for the future even if we do not expect some things to happen.
I do not want to have any wars or stealing to happen so people can think about their future. I want peace! I want for all the countries to be together, have one kind of money and give it to everyone! I want the world to have its future and for no one to be sad. I want everyone to have what they need for the future and not think: what are we going to have for dinner tomorrow? are we going to have dinner?
This is the major and common thing about life. That is why I want this to stand in the most common place in the world so everyone can see it and go for the truth! And if this happens sometime then the Earth can be happy to look into the future!!!
-Anna, age 12
Genya from North Carolina, age 8:
My symbol means:
People from different countries live peacefully in America!
-Genya, age 8