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.

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A new chapter in the life of a Torah

Torah presentation, January 25, 1967. Left to right: Rabbi Harold H. Gordon, Executive Vice President of the New York Board of Rabbis; Harry Ginsberg, HIAS board member; Harry M. Friedman, HIAS Comptroller; Murray Gurfein, HIAS President; Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, Chairman of the Board of the International Synagogue at Kennedy Airport; Hon. Charles H. Silver, President of the International Synagogue; Harry Berse, HIAS board member; Mrs. Albert Speed, HIAS board member. HIAS Photograph Collection, 8L14C, box 71.

DID YOU KNOW that New York’s JFK Airport has its own synagogue?

In January of 1967, a small group gathered at HIAS President Murray Gurfein’s office at 655 Madison Avenue for a special ceremony. On behalf of United HIAS Service, Gurfein presented the Torah scroll of the Ellis Island Chapel to Charles H. Silver, President of the International Synagogue, and Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, Chairman of the Board of the synagogue.

Newspaper clippings about HIAS’s gift of the Ellis Island Chapel Torah to the International Synagogue at JFK Airport. Articles from the Jewish Standard of Jersey City, NJ and the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh, PA; both dated February 3, 1967. HIAS Collection I-363, Public Affairs (not yet processed).

“Three million Jewish men, women and children have been assisted by United HIAS to resettle in free countries. For many of these people, the sight of this scroll was convincing evidence that they had at last found a place where they could practice their religion openly and fearlessly. We are pleased that at Kennedy Airport, which has replaced Ellis Island as the principal port of entry for immigrants, the Torah will continue to serve new arrivals of Jewish faith.”

-Murray Gurfein, President

United HIAS Service

Sukkot at the HIAS Shelter in NYC

What was it like for newly arrived refugees to celebrate Sukkot in freedom in America?

The HIAS photo collection contains one folder labeled Succoth. Inside are these three 8 x 10 prints depicting Sukkot preparations and celebrations, probably at the HIAS shelter at 425 Lafayette Street in Manhattan. Unfortunately, there are no dates on the photographs, nor any other descriptive information, but they appear to be from the late 1940s or early 1950s. HIAS used images such as these in publicity materials and publications such as annual reports.

The HIAS photo archive of 20,000 images has been digitized and will be fully searchable from http://ajhs.org/hias-digital-collections by the end of 2018.

Chag Sameach from AJHS.

Atonement

Carolyn Agress served as the Director of Membership Services at HIAS beginning in 1989. She coordinated membership campaigns, working with board members to solicit contributions, and overseeing the details of multiple campaigns per year. These donations represented a key component of the organization’s budget.

Letter of Carolyn Agress, Director of Membership Services and the Women’s Division, HIAS. March 6, 1991.

This Yom Kippur, those of us working on the HIAS processing project take inspiration from Carolyn, whose integrity and professionalism shine clearly through the records.

Yom tov.