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

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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.

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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! 

Philip Bernstein’s Retirement Party

Philip Bernstein was a Jewish communal professional for over sixty years, involved with numerous cultural, civic and philanthropic organizations. These included the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee, the United Jewish Appeal, and the local and national offices of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), where he served from 1934 until his death in 1995. From 1967 until his retirement in 1979, Bernstein was the Executive Vice President of CJF. HIAS has long benefitted from CJF’s financial assistance to support its daily operations and special projects. At Bernstein’s retirement party on September 15, 1979, numerous well-wishers came together to celebrate his long career and all that he had done in the field of Jewish communal service.

rachel_harrison_HIAS-001

The festivities included a musical revue tribute during which executives of national Jewish aid and immigration organizations, as well as CJF officers, sang a song about collaboration between the various national agencies.

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Gaynor I. Jacobson, the Executive Vice President of HIAS at the time, was invited to take part but he objected to the original version of the song as HIAS was not included.

rachel_harrison_HIAS-003

While it is not clear how serious his protest was, organizers changed one of the couplets in the song to include HIAS so that Jacobson would take part.

Edward M. Benton, HIAS attorney

Edward M. Benton was born into HIAS royalty – his father was John L. Bernstein, a founder in 1902 of the what we on the HIAS archives project understand to have been the first real predecessor organization of today’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. * John L. Bernstein remained on the HIAS board until his death in 1952. He was a lawyer, and provided pro bono legal services to HIAS for half a century.

Edward’s uncle was James Bernstein, a doctor in Brooklyn connected with Zion Hospital. He was director of HIAS activities in Europe approximately 1924-1947, having replaced E.W. Lewin-Epstein in the HIAS Warsaw office. (Followers of this blog may recall a previous post on E.W. Lewin Epstein.)

Edward M. Benton
Edward M. Benton

John’s son Edward was an attorney like his father, and seems to have officially become counsel to HIAS in 1952. Edward’s biographical form submitted as a member of the HIAS board of directors is below:

Board of Directors Biographical Form, Edward M. Benton, circa 1954
Board of Directors Biographical Form, Edward M. Benton, circa 1954

And in his biographical statement from the 1980s, he lists his various positions and accomplishments in connection with his long-time involvement with HIAS:

Edward M. Benton biography, page 3 - his long involvement with HIAS
Edward M. Benton biography, page 3 – his long involvement with HIAS

We have processed a small collection of Edward Benton’s files in the HIAS collection (Executive series/Executive Office/Other Executive Staff/Legal – Edward M. Benton), about one linear foot of files. There are a few files related to his father John’s work with HIAS (in HIAS president Ben Touster’s files and Executive Vice-President Isaac Asofsky’s files), and two files on John’s brother James (Program series/U.S. Operations/Location and Family History Service). Researchers will be able to locate these files on members of the Bernstein/Benton family when the completed finding aid is posted online at the end of 2018. Until then, contact the HIAS team through this blog if you are interested in seeing the files or browsing the related folder lists.

* Some credible sources give the history this way: the Hebrew Sheltering House Association (formed 1889) merged with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (1902) in 1909 to form the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). More detail will be available on the HIAS timeline, soon to be live on the HIAS archives project webpage.

Judge Murray I. Gurfein

The day the New York Times published Murray I. Gurfein’s obituary in December, 1979, they also published an editorial titled, “Judge Gurfein’s First Case”. The editorial reads in part:

“He was a brilliant attorney, an energetic prosecutor, a concerned citizen of the community and, for the last eight years, a distinguished district and appeals court judge. We saw all sides of the man on his very first day on the bench in 1971 when he had The Times in the dock.

“He had stopped our presses—midway through the printing of what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers—because the Federal Government was claiming irreparable damage to the national security. It was a historic test of First Amendment values, a heated struggle between his favorite newspaper and the President who named him a judge … Betraying his own discomfort, he said society ‘must learn to live with embarrassments like the Pentagon Papers’ “.

Quoting from the decision, the editorial continues: ” ‘A cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know’, Judge Gurfein declared. ‘These are troubled times. There is no greater safety valve for discontent and cynicism about the affairs of government than freedom of expression in any form.’ ”

HIAS president Murray Gurfein, circa 1960
HIAS president Murray Gurfein, circa 1960

This news clipping is one of many found in 2 files titled, “Murray I. Gurfein”. Just two of many biographical files maintained by the Public Relations department, they were later integrated into the files the Executive office maintained on members of the HIAS Board of Directors. A board member from “1938?”, according to Gurfein’s handwritten biographical form, he became a Vice-President in 1946, and was elected President from 1956-1957 and 1960-1967. According to his HIAS biography, “he led the agency through a number of migration crises, including the Hungarian revolt, the Suez invasion, the Cuban exodus and the Algerian war of independence.”

A few pertinent facts of Murray Gurfein’s professional life:

Gurfein was born in 1907 in New York City. He was an Assistant District Attorney in New York County from 1938-1942 and served as a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army during World War II, receiving the Legion of Merit, the O.B.E. from Britain and the Croix de Guerre from France.  He served as an Assistant to the U.S. Chief of Counsel at Nuremberg after the war, and returned to New York to practice law with Orrin Judd (and later also with Nathaniel Goldstein).

Murray I. Gurfein at event with unidentified woman
Murray I. Gurfein at event with unidentified woman

The Forward published an article by S. Regensberg on March 18, 1956 about Gurfein’s participation in the Nuremberg trials. The article includes a quote from Judge Gurfein about HIAS’ challenges as president: “Today there are not as many Jewish immigrants as in previous years. However, there are thousands of Jews who wander from country to country and the united organizations must stand at their side. The UHS [United HIAS Service], now has offices in all parts of the world … The immigration laws of America are complicated and reactionary, and there is a need for a persistent struggle to liberalize them.”

Unfortunately none of Murray Gurfein’s HIAS files appear to have survived. His correspondence appears scattered through the files of the Executive Vice-President he worked with during most of his two presidencies, James P. Rice, and in his leadership at Board of Directors meetings and Annual Meetings. We expect these files to be open for research by the end of 2018.

 

Happy Hanukah from HIAS, 1964

How did HIAS say Happy Hanukah in 1964? The same way most non-profit organizations acknowledge holidays today – with a fundraising appeal.

HANUKKAH 1964 Membership Letter, November 30, 1964
HANUKKAH 1964 Membership Letter, November 30, 1964 (scanned from a blurry carbon copy)

This membership appeal for donations was signed by HIAS president Murray Gurfein. Gurfein was president from 1956 to 1957, and again from 1960-1967. A lawyer and in active service during WWII, Gurfein led accomplished professional and volunteer careers. An article in The Forward on March 18, 1956 details his involvement with the Nuremberg trials after WWII, and sums up his life up to that point: “Murray Gurfein helped prosecute the Nazi Leaders—He was decorated by three countries for his activities in the second world war … now he has been elected president of the United HIAS Service. He is a son of a Galician Jew …”

For many people, that would be a satisfying summation of a life well-lived. But there was more. Gurfein had a successful law practice for more than 30 years. And in 1971 he was appointed to the United States District Court by President Richard M. Nixon. More on Murray Gurfein and his first case on the Appeals Court next week.

It is easy to forget that 1964 was a year of increased migration due to “political and economic unrest in various parts of the world,” according to HIAS’ Hanukah letter. At the end of November 1964 HIAS forecast the number of refugees they resettled at a 70% increase over 1963. The “more than 51,000 Jewish men, women and children” helped by HIAS in 1964 included those from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Cuba, 23 persons from China and 11 from India. Access to information on emigration specifics will be available when the HIAS archives project is completed at the end of 2018.

We join Murray Gurfein in his closing, “With many thanks, and with hearty Hanukkah Greetings” from the HIAS project staff – Lawrence, Elizabeth, Janet and Susan.

The Lewin-Epstein Family, and Other Leaders in the Jewish Community in early 20th Century New York

We recently learned of Marian Lewin-Epstein’s death on November 10. Familiar to me specifically because of her life-long involvement with Hadassah, Junior Hadassah and Hadassah-Israel and her presence in the Hadassah Archives, there is also a slim connection between Marian and HIAS: her husband’s grandfather E.W. Lewin-Epstein.

Marian grew up in Pennsylvania and became involved on the national level with Junior Hadassah after high school, in the 1940s. She can be found in the minutes of Junior Hadassah, attending meetings of the national board. She made aliyah to Israel after independence in 1948, and married Jacob Lewin-Epstein, a dentist at Hadassah Hospital like his father.

Jacob’s parents met aboard ship in 1918 as members of the American Zionist Medical Unit, funded through donations from Jewish communities throughout the United States, and organized by Henrietta Szold and the leadership of Hadassah in New York. The Unit left for Palestine as World War I was ending, in the summer of 1918, comprised of nurses, doctors, dentists, sanitarians and administrators and many tons of medical supplies including an ambulance donated by a Hadassah chapter. By the time the Unit arrived in Jerusalem, Madeline Epstein and Dr. Samuel Lewin-Epstein were engaged. Madeline’s memories of the trip can be found in her oral history. The business administrator of the Unit once it arrived in Palestine was Samuel’s father Eliahu Ze’ev (Wolf) Lewin-Epstein (generally referred to as E.W. Lewin-Epstein).

Madeline, E.W. and Samuel Lewin-Epstein in Palestine circa 1918
Madeline, E.W. and Samuel Lewin-Epstein in Jaffa, Palestine, circa 1918

E.W., born in 1864, was by the turn of the 20th century involved in the leadership of many Jewish and Zionist American organizations. A businessman, he also lived in Palestine at various times during his career. A brief and incomplete list of his involvements at the beginning of the 20th century include Vice-President of the Federation of American Zionists (predecessor to the Zionist Organization of America) (1907); served in some capacity in 1919 with the Zionist Commission to Palestine; treasurer of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs (1914-1916). A brief JTA article from 1923 lists E.W. as “European representative of the Remittance department”, presumably of HIAS. More information can be found in his New York Times obituary.

Listed in his 1932 obituary as a director of HIAS, he was also a member of the board of the National Refugee Service (NRS), which was in existence from 1933 to 1946 and whose work was eventually folded into HIAS.

E.W. Lewin-Epstein was among the handful of Jewish men (and fewer women) of his generation living in New York around the turn of the century, who became prominent leaders of relief and social service organizations, and Zionist organizations, such as the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, HIAS, NRS, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The leaders listed as involved with the Provisional Executive Committee at the start of WWI are good examples: Louis Brandeis, Henrietta Szold, Louis Lipsky, E.W. Lewin-Epstein, Stephen Wise, Judah Magnes and Harry Friedenwald. Others, such as Solomon Lowenstein and William Rosenwald, can also be found funding and/or leading organizations. Working largely as volunteers in some capacity – financial, political – they were for decades the driving force in the rescue of Jewish refugees, in providing a better life for recent immigrants and the poor in New York and around the United States, and in helping to create an infrastructure in Palestine in anticipation of a Jewish homeland there.