American Values as Seen by Immigrant Children. “People from different countries live peacefully in America!”

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:

Rostislav’s explanation:

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:

Edward’s explanation:

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:

Anna explained:

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:

Genya’s explanation:

 

My symbol means:

People from different countries live peacefully in America!

-Genya, age 8

 

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Schindelman Flying Mendonza on Nineteenth

The most fruitful subsubseries in the HIAS archives may be the files of the Executive Vice-Presidents (EVP). Not only is the heart of the work HIAS was doing in the 1960s and 1970s contained in the EVP files; in addition, these files are exceptionally easy to access, at least until the early 1980s, because of the detailed and remarkably consistent subject headings and arrangement of the folders.

Our EVP files begin in earnest with James P. Rice, 1956-1965. In 1966 Gaynor Jacobson became EVP, and his files continue through 1979. This telegram from 1970 turned up during processing and caught our attention because of the doodling on the front and the back.

Telex to Gaynor Jacobson from “Fred”, September 18, 1970

The content of the telex itself is normal HIAS business – refugees arriving in Latin America, poor communications, help is needed – sent and received as a telex. Mendonza (spelled elsewhere as Mendoza), a city in Argentina, is mentioned. Also mentioned is DAIA – Delegacion de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations). I have found no other references to Schindelman; he may have been engaged by HIAS to help settle refugees arriving from Eastern Europe, North Africa, or possibly the Soviet Union. Jacobson’s files from 1970-1971 include Overseas Country Files for 55 countries of emigration and immigration, from Algeria to Yugoslavia, where HIAS was involved during those two years.

The “Fred” who signed the telex is Fred (Ephraim) Weinstein, Director for Latin American Affairs and Operations and based in Rio de Janeiro for about 30 years, 1958-1988. We’ve spotted him in correspondence in the archives referred to as both Fred E. Weinstein and Ephraim F. Weinstein. After retiring in 1988 and moving back to New York, he was the Latin America consultant in the New York office of HIAS from 1990 to 1993; he died in 1996.

 

Interesting are the handwritten notes – “Joel Saible” is written across the top and bottom of the telex. (We cannot locate any information about him – please comment if you know who he was.) At the bottom of the page, 3 points are also handwritten, not all of which are legible in the scan above:

1-knowledgeable

2-capable

3-efficient

He sounds to me like a good hire, if that is the meaning of Jacobson’s notes.

But the main reason for posting about this telex is for the doodle on the back, which can be seen through the thin paper of the telex in the scan above. Below is the doodle itself, quite a lovely portrait. Of Saible? Weinstein? Jacobson? Drawn by Jacobson? We’ll never know.

Verso, with portrait

 

The HIAS Scholarship Program

From the 1977 annual report.

In 1974, United HIAS Service (as the agency was then known) announced the establishment of the Richard Alan Shapiro Memorial Awards. The $250 awards would be presented annually to two individuals – immigrants or their children – who “were making or preparing to make through study significant contributions to social betterment.” The awards, presented at the HIAS annual meeting in 1975, were the first in what would come to be known as the HIAS Scholarship Program.

Richard Alan Shapiro, son of then Associate Secretary (and future HIAS President) Edwin Shapiro and his wife Claire, was fatally injured in a car accident on January 31, 1974 at the age of 23, when he was in medical school. HIAS Director Gaynor Jacobson and President Carl Glick suggested to the Shapiros that they create a fund in memory of their son.

Records of the Scholarship Program are included in the HIAS archives collection under the Development series. Documents such as meeting minutes of the Scholarship Committee, correspondence with judges, press releases, and newspaper clippings give an idea of the the evolution of the program from the 1970s to the early 2000s. The number of awards increased from one to hundreds as HIAS actively pursued donors. Requirements for eligibility were adjusted as the program became more established. Some of these changes can be traced via the press releases:

  • 1975: $250 awards for “immigrants…who were making or preparing to make through study significant contributions to social betterment.”
  • 1983: $300 awards for “refugees who have made exceptional progress or shown outstanding promise in resettling in the United States.”
  • 1984: $500 awards for “refugees who have come to this country and wish to enter into or advance in the professions of their choosing.”
  • 1988: $500-2,000 awards for “HIAS-assisted refugees and their children who have arrived here since 1977.” Dr. Arline Bronzaft, Chairman of the Scholarship Awards Committee, noted that this was the first year that the funds were earmarked “specifically for students who are pursuing or plan to pursue, a post-secondary education.”
  • 1991: $500-2,000 Israeli awards for “Israeli students who [were] immigrants from the Soviet Union or Ethiopia, who made aliyah during 1980 or after …  Awarded on the basis of need and academic excellence.” (Records in this subseries show that HIAS awarded scholarships to Israeli olim as early as 1978, possibly earlier.)
  • 1992: $500-2,000 awards for “HIAS-assisted refugees and their children who migrated to the United States after 1977. The awards are intended specifically for students who plan to pursue post-secondary education and must demonstrate at least one year’s attendance in an American high school or college.”

 

A few of the awards at a glance:

  • The Ann S. Petluck Award – A social work administrator who specialized in immigration and refugee work, Petluck’s efforts profoundly influenced the practice of migration casework and helped reshape United States immigration law. She served as associate director of the United Service for New Americans until its merger with HIAS in 1954 and then as director of U.S. Operations for  the merged organization until 1964, when she became deputy representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Established by Meyer Poses in 1977 in memory of his wife.
  • The Murray I. Gurfein Memorial Fund – Established in 1980 by Eva Gurfein to honor her husband, the late Judge Gurfein, who served as President of HIAS from 1956-57 and from 1960-67. For more information on Gurfein, see these blog posts: Judge Murray I. Gurfein and Judge Murray Gurfein in “The Post.”
  • The Harry Ginsberg Memorial Fund – Established in 1991 in memory of Harry Ginsberg, a longtime HIAS board member, by his children. Harry’s wife Sophie also devoted her time to the cause of the agency, serving in the Women’s Division for many years (the division’s Sophie Ginsberg Chapter is named for her).
From the 1987 annual report.

Thank-you notes from scholarship recipients (excerpts):

From a pre-med student originally from Syria:

“It is not the first time that I or my family receive support from the HIAS. When we arrived in the USA, the HIAS department for new immigrants took care of our asylum application. They made sure that we have a work authorization and Social Security.

When my parents moved to Israel, HIAS took upon themselves the responsibility to provide me with the proper legal documentation such as Social Security and political asylum.

It is an endless chain of efforts and accomplishments by the HIAS to provide each and every Jew with everything they need to live a decent life in the USA.”

From an NYC student from the former Soviet Union:

“Were it not for the one-thousand dollar scholarship I received from HIAS, I honestly may not have been able to go to college. It is important to understand that for recent immigrants, every little bit helps. I am most grateful for the opportunity HIAS has given me.”

 

 

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.

Soundex and Family History Records

Soundex – it hardly exists anymore. But if you are interested in family history, and plan on using census records, or HIAS client files (among other Soundex-coded collections), it can either be annoying or a real time saver.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which holds the census records, created the Soundex system beginning with the 1880 census. Many of the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921 when they were being held by the Department of Commerce; a “small percentage” of some the 1890 records survives in an alphabetical index which does not use Soundex. 1900 and 1920 records are completely searchable using Soundex; 1910 has a Soundex index for about half the states.

NARA observes a 72-year delay in the release of census records (the 72-year rule was mandated by Congress in 1978); by the time the 1930 census was ready for release, in 2002, database software had made Soundex obsolete – except for conducting research with records from 1880 to 1920.

A pamphlet found in the HIAS collection (Administration series, Heather Halliday archivist files, box 121), from NARA, “Census Soundex”, gives the above history and then has several pages on how to use Soundex, pictured below.

National Archives and Records Administration Soundex Coding System – looks pretty complicated

What is Soundex and how does it work? The simple explanation is that “Soundex is a coded surname (last name) index based on the way a surname sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Surnames that sound the same, but are spelled differently, like SMITH and SMYTH, have the same code and are filed together … you can find a surname even though it may have been recorded under various spellings.”

Anyone who has done much family history research can tell you that the variant spellings as names originating in other countries changed once in the United States, and is a common problem when hunting down relatives. Soundex is even more helpful when the various spellings of a last name include examples that are spelled with different first letters. Because census records were searched for many years using microfilm, searching throughout the alphabet was incredibly time-consuming.

HIAS developed their own version of the NARA Soundex system, because so many names were Eastern European and there was a need to accommodate certain letters. According to Appendix A in “Genealogical Resources in New York”, edited by Estelle Guzik, the NYC Health Department for the most part used the NARA system.The HIAS Soundex Filing System differs from the NARA system in small ways that have proved helpful to the staff in HIAS’ Location Department. With thousands and thousands of client files, filed by last name and created over decades, being able to locate all the versions of a particular surname in one place was helpful – both in the paper files in their vast Hall of Records, and later (even now) on microfilm.

HIAS Case Name Indexing System, page 1. Not easier than the NARA system, but it works well
HIAS Case Name Indexing System, page 2

Some of the HIAS Arrival Cards were scanned from the microfilm to provide the 1955-1980 data for the database created as part of this archives project, which we’ve mentioned before. (Another post here) If you haven’t had a chance to search for family members who were brought to the United States by HIAS from about 1955 to 2000, please try a search. Because ultimately, the goal of all these systems is to find what you’re looking for.

Saving the Syrian Jewish Brides

In June 1977, President Hafez el-Assad of Syria approved a plan where 12 young Jewish women would take part in proxy marriages to members of the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn, whom the women had never met, after which they would be allowed to emigrate to the United States. This decision came after months of secret negotiations with Representative Stephen J. Solarz, whose congressional district covered the Ocean Parkway and Midwood sections of Brooklyn, where approximately 25,000 Jews of Syrian background lived at the time, as well as a personal plea to Assad by President Carter, which also was made at the bequest of Solarz.

HIAS_syrian brides-006
The 12 “husbands”, 12 brides, and a young widow and her family, who were allowed out at the last minute. In the front row are Stephen Shalom, a leader in the Syrian Jewish community; Stephen J. Solarz; Rabbi Abraham Hecht of Brooklyn; Bert Chabot, leader of the Brooklyn Syrian Jewish community, who acted as an interpreter; and Rabbi Isaac Dwek of Deal, New Jersey. At JFK, August 11, 1977.

After Syrian independence from France in 1946, the 1947 Partition Plan, and the 1948 founding of Israel, Jews in Syria faced terrible discrimination, including several deadly pogroms and riots. By the time of the Six-Day War in 1967, there were an estimated 5,000 Jews in Syria, down from 40,000-45,000 Jews in 1948. Jews could not work for the government or banks, own telephones or driver’s licenses, Jewish property and passports were seized, bank accounts were frozen, Jewish schools were closed, and the Jewish cemetery in Damascus was paved over. A 1964 law restricted Jews from traveling more than 5 kilometers from their hometowns. Jews who were allowed to leave for medical or business reasons had to leave behind money and family members as collateral. The three largest Jewish communities, in Damascus, Aleppo, and Kamishli, were placed under house arrest for eight months following the Six-Day War. Jews began escaping in secret, sometimes with help from abroad, even though the penalty for attempting to escape or helping someone to escape was either imprisonment with hard labor or death and any family members left behind could be imprisoned. Most of those who escaped were young single men, who wanted to be free to leave at short notice. As a result, by 1977, there were 500 unmarried Jewish women in their late teens and early 20s who had no marriage prospects within the Jewish community and who were not allowed to marry non-Jews.

Representative Solarz traveled to Damascus in December 1976, where he spoke with Jewish leaders as well as Syrian government officials. The Jewish community asked that Solarz help bring the young women to his district in Brooklyn, because of the strong Syrian Jewish community. Certain Syrian government officials told him they were sympathetic to letting the women leave, as long as they did not go Israel. Back in Brooklyn, Solarz contacted local Syrian Jews who started to raise funds and look for eligible young men, as well as staff from HIAS and NYANA (New York Association for New Americans), who helped find private homes for the women to stay in, where their “husbands” could visit, and set up English-language classes and jobs for the women.

HIAS_syrian brides-001
Vice President of Finance Harry Friedman, Executive Vice President Gaynor I. Jacobson, President Carl Glick, and some of the Syrian brides at the HIAS office, August 16, 1977.

Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance spoke with President Assad about the young women in February and in May 1977, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski put Congressman Solarz in touch with President Carter, who then made a personal plea to the Syrian president in May. Assad eventually agreed to let 12 women leave through proxy marriages. Syrian yeshiva students from Brooklyn sent marriage proposals in June and in early July, Stephen Shalom and Michael Lewin, Solarz’s chief of staff, went to Damascus. The weddings occurred on July 19, 1977, and were conducted by the rabbi in the Damascus synagogue. Michael Lewin stood in for the absent grooms. At the same time, two other women were married in person to Americans who had come to Syria looking for wives. More than 500 people were present in the synagogue.

 

HIAS_syrian brides-002
HIAS staff member Shlomo Dekel and William Males help complete the immigration preocessing at the HIAS office, August 16, 1977.

Judge Murray Gurfein in “The Post”

Those of you who have seen the current film, “The Post“, about the Washington Post ‘s perspective on the New York Times and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, may have very briefly heard the name Murray Gurfein.

You may remember that Murray Gurfein was the subject of a blog post a year ago, detailing his involvement with HIAS (twice serving as president), a short recap of his legal career, and his connection with the case against the New York Times, as a federal judge, when the Nixon administration sued the Times to cease publication.

I caught Judge Gurfein’s name two times in the film. First when Post staff were watching the evening news when Gurfein’s injunction against the Times was announced, and Walter Cronkite referred to him by name, as Judge Murray Gurfein. And second when one of the Post‘s legal team, in continuing to make a case against publication with Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, refers to Judge Gurfein’s injunction.

We’d love to know if anyone catches other references to Judge Gurfein in “The Post”, or in any articles about the film or in discussions of the Pentagon Papers.

The issue of Freedom of the Press was challenged by the Nixon administration in 1971 surrounding the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment remain critical to the free and open democracy we are privileged to enjoy in the United States. And Murray Gurfein, to us, has come to represent what continues to be honorable and important in the work that HIAS does.