Building Committee, 1920-1921

The HIAS Building Committee minutes from 1920 to 1921 are among the earliest committee materials in the HIAS archives at the American Jewish Historical Society. The committee was in existence during the purchase and dedication of the building they bought in 1920-1921, 425 Lafayette Street, described in the minutes as the “old library” building – in fact, built in 1854 as the Astor Library, by the Astor family. The building was purchased in 1965 by the Public Theater which continues to occupy it. (More on the Astor Library building in a future post.)

HIAS Building Committee minute book, 1920-1921

One of our earlier posts includes a photograph of the plaque on the building today that acknowledges the work of HIAS during the 40  years they occupied the building.

The building became available after the Astor Library merged with the Lenox Library and the Tilden Trust in 1895 to form the New York Public Library. According to Wikipedia, the New York Public Library vacated the building in 1911, and it appears to have been underutilized until HIAS bought it in 1920.

According to the minutes of the Building Committee on May 4th 1920, “The Chairman stated that the Government which is occupying the New Building of the Society as a Retail Food Store will vacate on May 16th.” No other information about the building’s use between 1911 and 1920 appears to be in these minutes.

The Building Committee minutes initially show that the Board focused on the costs of purchasing and renovating the building. Title would be transferred to HIAS on payment in March 1920 of $100,000. Loans were arranged, and a campaign plan put together to pay off those loans.

In the 1920 Annual Report, Treasurer Harry Fischel made a plea for funds to finance the new building (“the National Home for Jewish immigrant aid work in America”): “the Society is practically leading a hand to mouth existence. It has no funds to draw upon. For the Building Fund, generous as the contributions have been, another $150,000 will have to be required.”

HIAS 12th Annual Report, 1920. At this time, HIAS considered their 1909 merger to be the beginning of the modern HIAS.

The chairman of the Building Committee was Harry Fischel; members include Morris Asofsky (brother of long time HIAS General Manager/ Executive Director Isaac Asofsky, 1924-1952), and early HIAS presidents Max Meyerson (1902-1909), Judge Leon Sanders (1909-1916), John L. Bernstein (1917-1925) and Abraham Herman (1926-1947). Harry Fischel was the Treasurer of HIAS (then the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society) from 1890 to at least 1921. He was a “real estate dealer“, philanthropic in many Jewish causes, and died in Jerusalem in 1948.

The minutes contain detailed descriptions of the interior renovation of the building, including voting on placements of water fountains and the colors of the floors, and the committee’s problems after hiring the wrong supervisor for the project.

The dedication was set for June 5, 1921, plans were finalized for suitable donor plaques, and President Harding agreed to speak by telephone to the assembled audience. Unfortunately, because “it would be impossible to make arrangements for the amplifiers … his speech [was] read to the audience.”

By 1965 HIAS had moved to more modern headquarters at 200 Park Avenue. Another blog post will follow in a few weeks with more detail on the Astor Library building.

Advertisements

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.

 

A Happy and Healthy New Year from Raphael Spanien, 1961

In August 1961 Raphael Spanien, Deputy Director of HIAS headquarters in Paris, corresponded with Ann Petluck, at the time the Director of US Operations for HIAS in New York, about the difficulty in scheduling charter flight schedules, as well as travel by ship, for clients otherwise prepared to immigrate to the United States during the Jewish holidays in the fall of 1961.

Raphael Spanien to Ann Petluck, page 1
Raphael Spanien to Ann Petluck, page 2

“… I have tried to arrange an earlier booking in order that this family should not arrive on the first day of Succoth. The only possibility was an arrival Erev Yom Kippur. I think it is better … to arrive the first day of Succoth …”

Spanien reveals several things in the space of this two-page letter. First, that he is doing all he can to be respectful of his clients’ religious needs and also the urgency to complete their long transition to a more permanent home as soon as possible. He also reveals his personal limited first-hand knowledge of the holidays and when travel would be problematic for an observant family (and also for HIAS staff and volunteers in Europe and in the United States). The following sentence in particular is in its way charming, as well as illustrative of the logistics involved in booking passage, after the hard work of obtaining visas was completed:

… I really believe that to postpone these departure arrangements now would mean serious hardships for these families, since their tickets have been delivered and their baggage sent to the boat. Moreover, since the[y] arrive on the Friday preceding the second days of Succoth, I don’t really see any reason why this departure should now be changed. The Sunday, October 1st, being Hoshano Rabo, which by no means is a holiday, and as far as I remember the only obligation Jews have on this day is to ‘eat kreplach’, why can’t these people be entrained Saturday evening and arrive at their destination during the day of Sunday, Erev Shemini Azereth?

In closing the letter, Spanien also reveals how fond he is of Ann Petluck. By 1961 they would have worked together for at least a few years and possibly much longer. (Petluck had worked at the National Refugee Service (NRS) from at least 1943, continued at United Service for New Americans (USNA) when it took over NRS projects and staff in 1946, and then at HIAS when it took over USNA projects and staff in 1954.) Through all of these years HIAS held an annual Migration Conference which they both would have attended, and where they most likely met each other for the first time. Between conferences they communicated constantly on specific cases; they clearly worked hard to make the transition from a HIAS European transit office to HIAS care in the United States (or elsewhere) as easy as possible for their clients. Even in the post-war year of 1961 these clients might have been between permanent homes for months or years.

Those of us working on the HIAS archives project join Raphael Spanien in his traditional words (with the Ashkenazi pronunciation) at this High Holiday season:

… I don’t think that there will be any better opportunity for me to wish you and your family, your staff, and all our friends in New York a happy and healthy Year. Leshono tovu tikusevu …

 

 

 

 

 

Elaine Winik

We learned last week that Elaine Winik, life-long leader of United Jewish Appeal (UJA) of New York had died last Wednesday. Elaine was a major part of her family’s 4-generation involvement in UJA of New York. Elaine was known as a dynamic speaker and fundraiser* for UJA, a talent she first discovered when recruited to the local UJA ranks while living in Rye, NY in the 1940s, when her name was Elaine Siris. Elaine will also be remembered as a memorable story teller. An interview with Elaine in 2010 can be found here.

Elaine Winik, President of United Jewish Appeal of New York, circa 1982

Some of us at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) first became acquainted with Elaine’s work while working on the UJA-Federation of New York archives. Elaine was the first woman to become president of UJA of New York, 1982-1984, just prior to the 1986 merger with the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Her oral history, part of the UJA-Federation oral history program, was digitized during our 4-year archives project to make the UJA-Federation of New York archives accessible in time for this year’s centennial. In addition, Elaine donated many of her albums and photographs to AJHS as  part of the UJA-Federation collection. Information about this collection can be found here.

But what is the connection between Elaine Winik and HIAS? The only evidence of Elaine we have come across so far in the HIAS archives collection now being processed by AJHS, was a surprise. Evidently, Elaine and another leader from UJA of New York visited the HIAS office in Vienna in 1968. Read about the connection on the HIAS project blog.

We send our condolences to the entire Winik family.

Elaine Winik Death Notices

* Pictured left to right in linked photograph: Alvin H. Einbender, David Brenner, Elaine K. Winik, Alan S. Jaffe, Peter W. May and Danny Aiello.

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!