Immigration in 1989, Part 2

This is a continuation of last week’s post on the difficulties encountered by Soviet Jews requesting refugee status in the US in 1988 and 1989, as detailed in the HIAS Annual Report of 1989 .

Rejection of refugee status in 1988 and 1989 was thought by some to be related “to the continuing US budget crisis which refugee immigration and resettlement costs were exacerbating”, according to the Annual Report (page 10). Here is how the problem developed and how HIAS worked to overcome the hurdles it presented:

“All Soviet Jews historically had been admitted as refugees based on conditions inside the Soviet Union that were universally understood as adverse to Jews.” According to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1989, the term ‘refugee’ means any person who is outside their country of citizenship and needs the protection of another country, such as the United States, “because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality,” among other protected groups.

Attorney General Edwin Meese, head of the Justice Department under President Reagan, and therefore overseeing the Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS], requested that INS officers adjudicate Soviet Jews on an individual basis, ignoring many years of precedent in dealing with Soviet Jews. Meese offered them “parole in the public interest” if denied refugee status. This allowed Soviet Jews to enter the US legally, but denied them access to “the social assistance programs that accompany refugee status.” In addition an affidavit of support was required from a US sponsor.

HIAS reacted quickly, meeting in January 1989 with other Jewish communal leaders and then joined forces with the new Attorney General Richard Thornburgh; outside counsel wrote a legal memorandum with which HIAS and other immigration agencies could clearly explain their case to the new White House staff and members of Congress. Support in Congress helped convince Thornburgh by the end of the fiscal year to reverse the Meese directive.

Denials  had continued to grow over the first 6 months of 1989, and HIAS modified its processing operations, but it was determined “that only a fundamental reorientation of HIAS staff and an equally fundamental rearrangement of its systems would … significantly [reduce] … the denials.”

“It became clear that HIAS needed to retrain a staff which had never dealt with anything but a friendly and sympathetic INS.”

Refugee Denial Rates in Rome, 1988-1989

HIAS worked as quickly as possible, within the system and the policies and laws that had changed without taking into consideration the effect on those seeking refuge in the United States. Denials spiked in March 1989 and eventually, after legislative corrections, staff retraining and a 75% increase in worldwide HIAS staff, procedural changes at HIAS, and a large increase in expenses, HIAS was able to “consistently [process] a monthly flow approaching 5,000, reuniting more Jewish refugees with their stateside families than any time since World War II.”

 

 

Advertisements

There is never anything routine in the saving of a life

Karl Zukerman, HIAS Executive Vice-President (1984-1991) wrote a memo to his “fellow HIAS staff members”, on January 4, 1987 that he called, “A Note for the New Year”.

Memorandum to all HIAS staff, 1987, page 1

He started off, “As I walked by the office of one of the migration staff last Thursday, I overhead part of a phone conversation she was having with someone who, apparently, was the family member of a Jew in Iran. What I heard was,

When you know when your relative will be escaping into Pakistan, please call me so that …

Zukerman continued, “… just the opening phrase brought me up short! I’ve been working for HIAS over five years, a lot less than many of you, but still I’ve been involved in some “interesting” cases.

“Yet the idea, the situation, so simply described in that opening phrase, took my breath away. It helped remind me of just how fundamental is the work we all do … it’s important to remember that there is never anything routine in the saving of a life or the redeeming of a captive.”

There is probably a copy in Zukerman’s Executive Vice-President files, but the copy I found is located elsewhere – in the files Haim Halachmi, then the director of the HIAS office in Israel. Unfortunately the copy is on thermal fax paper, and the fax machine at one end or another had a blurry streak down the left side of the document on both pages.

Memorandum to all HIAS staff, page 2

Zukerman ends with, “No matter how long you’ve been at HIAS, remind yourself of the drama and significance in which you play a part. Remember how important a part you play in the most important of all activities, saving lives. Remember ‘…escaping into Pakistan…’ “

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.

 

 

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

 

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.

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.

 

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.