More than just a pretty facade: HIAS at Lafayette Street

The Astor Library in 1854.
Unknown – Harry Miller Lydenberg (July 1916). “History of the New York Public Library”. Bulletin of the New York Public Library 20: 570-571.; first published in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion

The building that stands at 425 Lafayette Street today was originally built as a home for the East Village’s lavish Astor Library. After more than fifty years of serving the public, the library consolidated with the Lenox Library and the Tilden Foundation to become what we now recognize as the New York Public Library.

But what was to become of this architectural marvel? Enter the up-and-coming organization called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

HIAS hired architect Benjamin Levitan to oversee the necessary alterations to create a suitable New York City headquarters. He was very impressed by the building’s original grand structure, including its southerly double-height spaces, elaborate iron and wood book stacks, columns, skylights, and vaulted ceilings—but knew that the building had to become more than just a place for well-designed silent reflection. Levitan and HIAS wanted to create a place that was welcoming, yet able to provide newly-arrived Jewish immigrants the aid, emergency shelter, and sanctuary for religious practice, they sought and deserved as they began their new lives in New York.

After the final structural reconstruction efforts were finished, a community bazaar was held to furnish the building, it was dedicated by President Warren G. Harding on June 5, 1920. This new HIAS location provided ample space for both the organization’s Executive headquarters and facilities to ease immigrants into many aspects of American life.

The building’s features and services included:

  • Separate dormitories for men and women
  • Two kosher kitchens—one for meat preparation and one for dairy
  • A large dining room for comfortable, communal, social eating
  • An operating synagogue, both for those living within HIAS’ walls and neighborhood residents
  • Holiday celebrations, such as a yearly neighborhood Passover Seder
  • Facilities for children, including donated toys and games, classrooms, and a playground

In addition to providing personal shelter and community interaction, 425 Lafayette Street also became ‘base camp’ for various HIAS-sponsored immigration and community services:

HIAS Immigrant Bank
The bank, which was licensed by NY State, was established in 1923 and limited itself to the receiving and transmitting of money to/from immigrants’ families abroad. For many years, no other U.S. banks would send dollars abroad.

Citizenship Services
The HIAS offices were open every Sunday in order to accommodate those who were not able to apply for citizenship applications during the week. HIAS office staff also prepared Affidavits of Support and led citizenship classes for clients during these extra weekend hours.

Ellis Island Services
HIAS set up satellite offices at Ellis Island in order to offer personal and immediate aid to those arriving in New York, those who were in danger of being deported back home, and those requiring other forms of legal aid. 

In honor of HIAS’ work and how they turned one building into a place of hope for thousands of Jewish migrants, a plaque is affixed to the outside of 425 Lafayette Street (what now is the Public Theater). It reads:

HIAS plaque outside 425 Lafayette Street, New York, NY.

This plaque is dedicated to HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which occupied this building from 1921 to 1965. 

As the International Migration Agency of the American Jewish Community, HIAS’ work, providing rescue and refuge for endangered and persecuted people of all faiths and backgrounds around the world, continues to this day. Founded in 1881, HIAS has rescued more than 4,500,000 men, women, and children, including members of almost every Jewish family in America. Tens of thousands of these refugees and migrants were sheltered and fed in this building before they entered the mainstream of life in this great nation. 

HIAS’ current New York City offices are located at 411 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.

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Logos and letterhead

Now that the HIAS Archives processing project is in the home stretch, we have a chance to sit down, go through our notes, and share some gems we’ve found along the way!

We’ve learned a great many things about the inner-workings of non-profit organizations, such as administrative structures, the best ways to increase membership numbers, the right way to write a business letter, and how re-branding your logo can revitalize everything.

Please enjoy this quick post, which highlights several of the more simple, creative, and unique examples of HIAS’ logos and letterhead evolution from one of their first logos in 1914 to their most recent logo from 2018.

 

1914
HICEM letterhead, 1945
HSIAS letterhead, 1952
1953
c1955
75th Anniversary logo, 1959
HIAS House letterhead, 1965
1965
1970
HIAS letterhead, 1976
HIAS letterhead, 1979
HIAS logo, 2001
HIAS’ current logo (as of 2018)

HIAS Women’s Division

Women’s Division—Audio-Visual Mobile Unit, 1950s.

When the Women’s Division came into existence as an auxiliary group to HIAS, their original, main purpose was to raise money for larger-scale international endeavors. In addition to this task, its members also took on more personally-connecting roles with incoming immigrants.

In the early years, Women’s Division members volunteered at the Lafayette street shelter, ran a thrift shop whose proceeds went to HIAS, and began personally meeting incoming planes carrying refugees at JFK airport.

Although membership and volunteer activity with the Women’s Division surged after WWII, by the 1980s and 1990s, initiative and group attendance was waning. Many of the previously active members had grown too old for volunteering and changes needed to be made in order to maintain the solvency of the Division as a whole. With work, HIAS sparked interest in a large contingent of Russian women in particular, displaced from the Soviet Union and searching for supportive communities in the city. They found solace in the Women’s Division, providing boosting membership numbers, much-needed clerical help, and translation services. These women found for themselves a sense of purpose and strength with others in similarly isolating circumstances.

At the Women’s Division Board meeting on April 8 [1991] it became even more apparent that we will need to infuse new blood into the Division if it is to survive at all…It seems clear that developing [new] chapters of Russian women is the way to breathe new life into the WD and at the same time increase HIAS membership.  –Carolyn Agress to Roberta Elliott, April 10, 1991

There were several Division chapters in NYC, scattered around the different neighborhoods, all with their own unique roster of leadership, meeting schedules, and fundraising techniques. A representative from each of these chapters was elected to be part of the larger Women’s Division Board, and the president of this board represented everyone at the general HIAS Executive Committee meetings.

At the time of the resignation of Women’s Division President Arline Bronzaft in 1994, only two chapters were still functioning in NYC. By 1998, we know that the auxiliary group had been dissolved (or at the very least was soon to be), due to this template draft written on behalf of HIAS President Norman D. Tilles and Executive VP Martin A. Wenick:

DRAFT-Letter re Women’s Division, undated. I-363, Executive Office Subject Files, HIAS—Women’s Division.

 

 

Always Factual, Often Dazzling: HIAS Annual Reports

Each year, HIAS Executive Board members as well as members of various Committees and Sub-Committees convene to discuss the year’s financial status, track contributions to their cultural missions, resolve issues, and plan for the year(s) ahead in the form of Annual Meetings. Although these meetings may not seem that exciting from the outside, they serve as valuable roundtables for discussion, decision-making, and organizational networking.

Every year, just in time of the Annual Meeting, HIAS releases their Annual Report. These publications serve as handy take-aways, highlighting many of the topics discussed at the Annual Meeting as well as other entertaining articles and interviews.

Throughout our processing, we’ve had the pleasure of coming across many of HIAS’ Annual Reports and marveled at the impressive, creative art styles that were chosen to represent one year or another.

Below, we’ve selected some of our favorites. Please enjoy the artistic inventiveness of HIAS throughout the years!

Which year is your favorite? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

HIAS is here to assist you!

Moving to a new neighborhood where you don’t know many people? Often difficult.
Moving to a new country where you don’t know anyone? Always overwhelming.

In an effort to make the immigrant transition into the US more seamless, HIAS printed many pieces of literature over the years* to provide easy-to-use checklists for efficiently tackling various legal processes. The existence of these pamphlets might seem standard, but having accessible, concise steps to immigration success means fewer mistranslated notes, awareness of deadlines, and a better understanding of the help that’s available.

Refugee Policy

Inside, HIAS outlines the official Application Process and the steps that the Washington Processing Center takes when reviewing applications, including lengthy, detailed information on:

  • What’s included on the Preliminary Questionnaire
  • What’s included when asked to fill out an Affidavit of Relationship

What happens after your INS interview

So now that someone has had their INS interview and has been granted either refugee or parole status, HIAS is here to make sure that all the proper steps are taken BEFORE immigrating to the US.

This includes:

  • Completing your first appointment wiht IOM/MPC staff
  • Arranging for a medical examination
  • Obtaining sponsorship (refugees only) and exit permissions from OVIR
  • Making travel arrangements and organizing with your US relatives (if any) to notify the US of your arrival
  • Making a second appointment with IOM/MPC once you are ready to travel

You’ve made it! Here’s how HIAS can help!

HIAS’ help didn’t end with immigrants finding sanctuary on US soil, and didn’t end with immigrants, either! Help was available for both travelers and their US relatives and included:

  • General advice and counsel to both immigrants and their US family members
  • Help with making document corrections, alterations, and replacements (if originals are lost)
  • VISA petition assistance
  • Expediting VISA applications for relatives left in your home country
  • Green card, citizenship, and asylum applications
  • Taking photographs and fingerprints for legal documentation
  • Translation services
  • Specialized legal representation at no cost/minimal cost
  • Scholarship programs (for HIAS-assisted refugees who migrated to the US after 1977)
  • And a handy wallet guide!

*All pamphlets in this post were included in a packet designed for the attendants of the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations, 1992.

 

When in New York…

On October 30, 1988, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry held its annual Leadership Assembly at the Vista International Hotel in New York. The annual event brought together leaders from the NCSJ’s 50 national constituent agencies, 300 local federations and community councils, as well as Soviet Jewry activists from around the country to deliberate on the issues facing the Soviet Jewry Movement at home and abroad as the USSR went through great change.

Themed “Visions for the Future,” the assembly provided panels on not just cultural topics such as Jewish identity, but provided a forum for practical problem solving like coordinating travel programs, developing effective advocacy, and organizing productive activism.

While processing several folders of handouts, correspondence, publicity for the Assembly, I found this handy list of Kosher restaurants and delis for those attending the assembly that had both dietary restrictions AND a desire to explore the gastronomic gifts of New York City:

For more information on the American Soviet Jewry movement, please visit ajhs.org/aasjm. For more information on AJHS’ Records of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, please view their finding aid here: http://digifindingaids.cjh.org/?pID=338009#a2.

“Where fine dining is never trivial”
“Revolutionary for young people”
Hickory smoked goose!

With restaurant names such as ‘Edible Pursuits,’ ‘Avi’s Elegant Restaurant,’ and ‘Someplace Special,’ who wouldn’t want to jump in a cab and attempt a culinary adventure?

 

Have you eaten at any of these restaurants?
Let us know in the comments below!

Happy 115th Birthday, HIAS!

1995 marked HIAS’ 115th organizational anniversary, which included not only a larger-than-life Annual board Meeting, but various outings, tours, and galas to commemorate more than a hundred years of exceptional service to Jewish refugees around the world.

In the 1994 HIAS Annual Report, President Martin Kesselhaut and Executive Vice-President Martin A. Wenick remark how proud they are that their current mission statement has held strong over more than a century:

 

“HIAS instills in its clients a true patriotism and love for their adopted country and makes better known to the people of the United States the many advantages of legal immigration.”

 

HIAS accomplished quite a lot in 1994. They partnered with AT&T to fund production of a weekly television show produced by the Russian-American Broadcasting Company, initiated a national Citizenship Project which provided support to naturalization applicants, brokered partnerships with major corporations and Jewish communities as part of their National Corporate Initiative, and participated in their first-ever Leadership Mission to Washington.

_____

For those involved on the Executive side of the organization, the Annual Membership Meeting was transformed from a traditional presentation-based form to one referred to as a ‘HIAS fair.’ This free-roam meeting format encouraged the Board to directly interact with the departmental staff, creating a personal dialogue to voice concerns, celebrate successes, and cooperatively brainstorm how each department could work together for a bigger and brighter fiscal year ahead. 

For those on the membership side with some time to spend enjoying the city, HIAS organized two days of New York adventures.

NYC-Postcard

Day 1 included:

  • Manhattan walking tour of notable New York Synagogues
  • Trip to Ellis Island, where HIAS representatives were once present to defend those in jeopardy of being deported and/or to accompany immigrants back to HIAS headquarters for shelter
  • Trip to Brighton Beach, which included a walking tour and dinner at a popular Russian restaurant 
  • Tour of the Lower East Side, which included a Kosher lunch at Ratner’s

Day 2 was more centrally located at HIAS’ old headquarters, and included:

  • HIAS Scholarship presentations
  • Building tours of 425 Lafayette Street, HIAS’ home from 1921-1965
  • A group naturalization swearing-in ceremony
  • Annual Membership Meeting, including elections for 1995
  • Guest speaker
  • Board meeting
  • Gala Reception

Since 1995, HIAS has continued to grow and evolve in order to support those who need them most. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring!