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!
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 Soundexsystem 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.
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.TheHIAS Soundex Filing Systemdiffers 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Below is a pamphlet in Spanish, published in Quito, Ecuador in 1946, titled “The Jewish problem and the Catholic point of view”.
Two copies of the pamphlet were sent to the HIAS Board of Directors in New York by Oscar Rocca, the HIAS representative in Quito. Elsewhere in the collection he was described as the president of HIAS-Quito, or as the head of the “committee”. Through the files on the Quito office, we’ve noted correspondence from Mr. Rocca in various positions of authority within the Jewish community in Quito from about 1944 to his death in 1950.
The letterhead used for this memo states, “Comite de Proteccion a Los Immigrantes Israelitas Afiliado a la ‘HICEM’ “. Mr. Rocca’s main reason for sharing the pamphlet with HIAS leadership in New York may be in his fourth paragraph: “We think the pamphlet to be very interesting, because a clear standpoint to our problem is taken therein, what nowadays in such clear a form is seldom to be found.”
A summary of the Spanish-language pamphlet was made by a staff member in the HIAS Correspondence Department in the HIAS NY office:
I have read the enclosed pamphlet containing a lecture delivered by a Catholic priest in Quito under the auspices of a local general welfare society. [according to Mr. Rocca, the speech was delivered to the Jewish “Associacion de Beneficencia Israelita”.] The lecture is a denunciation of anti-Semitism and is sympathetic toward the Jews. It is significant 1) because the author is a Catholic priest, 2) because it ch….s* to set forth the Catholic thesis on anti-Semitism, and 3) because the pamphlet has the imprimatur of the vicar-general of the Quito archdiocese.
Through this correspondence and other memos and reports in the Quito file, a picture of the Jewish communities in Quito and other Latin American countries emerges. Also described is the leadership in those communities, the fundraising they were doing for Israel and HIAS and the JDC, and how communication, although difficult, was indeed possible between the various HIAS offices. Many of these leaders, like Oscar Rocca in Quito, Dr. Marc Leitchic in Rio de Janeiro, Jacob Feuermann in Buenos Aires and Dr. Aron Benchetritt in Bogota were immigrants themselves and spoke, read and wrote many languages. Often, during the years of the these files, the late 1940s to the 1950s, the easiest language in which to communicate between offices was in Yiddish.
These files will be available for research by the end of 2018 along with the rest of the HIAS archive at AJHS. For access before then, please contact email@example.com.
* Please write a comment to this post if you are able to decipher this word!
This blog post is the first of several posts about HIAS and Ethiopian Jewry.
HIAS, the Jewish Defense League, and Ethiopian Jewry
On the afternoon of September 8, 1981, approximately 15 members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a far-right religious-political organization, took over the main offices of HIAS in New York and forced the staff out, while barricading themselves inside. At the same time, 15 additional JDL members chained the front doors of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization-American Section building. These actions were done in protest of American Jewry’s perceived lack of action to rescue the estimated 25,000 Ethiopian Jews, also called Falashas, meaning “landless” or “wanderers,” or Beta Israel, “House of Israel,” then living in 500 remote mountainous villages in northern Ethiopia.
The JDL presented HIAS officials with two demands: that HIAS initiate an immediate rescue effort for the Ethiopian Jews, and that HIAS spearhead, as a priority, an awareness program about the plight of Ethiopian Jewry in conjunction with all Federations across the United States. Irving Haber, head of HIAS administration, agreed to bring the first demand to the next meeting of the HIAS board and also agreed to send telegrams to the Council of Jewish Federations and to four Federations.
The JDL members then left the building, having been inside for two hours.
A Brief History of the Jewish Community in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Jewish community may descend from the Tribe of Dan, one of the ten so-called “lost” tribes, and could have originated as long ago as the break-up of the United kingdom of Israel, circa 1020 to 930 B.C.E., or the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.E., or the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C.E. Based on various medieval responsa concerning Ethiopian Jews, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the newly-elected Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, ruled in 1973 that the Beta Israel were Jews and should be brought to Israel. He was later joined in this ruling by Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. On March 14, 1977, Israeli officials decided that the Israeli Law of Return applied to the Beta Israel.
The Ethiopian Civil War began on September 12, 1974 when the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police and Territorial Army, known as the “Derg,” (which means “committee” in Ge’ez), a Marxist-Leninist group, staged a coup d’état against Emperor Haile Selassie. The civil war lasted until 1991, when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of rebel groups, overthrew the government, by which point at least 1.4 million Ethiopians had died. Insurrections against Derg rule were particularly violent in the northern regions of Eritrea and in Tigray, one of the regions, along with Amhara, where the Beta Israel were centered.
Since Israel did not have full diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, which was surrounded by several member countries of the Arab League, and since the Communist Derg government officially banned Beta Israel immigration to Israel, any rescue operations had to be done secretly. The Mossad contacted Sudanese officials, who allowed thousands of Beta Israel into refugee camps on the Ethiopia-Sudan border, with the understanding that they would be ultimately taken to Israel. Hundreds, possibly thousands, died on the walk to these camps, which often took up to a month. Conditions were poor and many in the camps, which at one point housed one million refugees, died of disease, thirst, and hunger. Possibly between 2,000 and 5,000 of those who died in the camps were Jews. Between 1977, when Israel recognized Beta Israel as subject to the Right of Return, and 1984, when the first airlifts to Israel began, approximately 8,000 Beta Israel immigrants traveled from camps in Sudan to Israel by boats belonging to the Israeli Navy, by airplane, or on foot. Of these 8,000, only half survived the journey, due to disease, hunger, and violence along the route.
HIAS and the Beta Israel
The issue of the Falashas, or Beta Israel, was a thorny one and most of the progress that was made was done in secret and at a very high government level. HIAS, as a member organization of the American Council of Voluntary Agencies for Foreign Service (ACVA) and of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), was involved in some of the rescue activities, starting in 1977 and continuing into early 1980’s. However, it was a race against time.
Numerous Ethiopian Jews, as well as international aid workers, were jailed, tortured, and killed for attempting to emigrate and international attention on the plight of the Beta Israel only seemed to inflame the issue further. Rallies and protests were held and aid organizations were formed in the United States, Canada, France, Great Britain, and elsewhere. Public debate raged regarding the policy of “quiet diplomacy” counseled by Israeli leaders and the Jewish Agency and newspaper articles and editorials argued both for and against increased pressure on Israel and World Jewry. The public accused American Jewry, and HIAS in particular, of ignoring the problem and allowing another Holocaust. According to NJCRAC statistics, between 1,000 and 1,100 Ethiopian Jews emigrated to Israel from 1980-1981, but that still left 25,000 remaining in a precarious situation. It would be three more years until the first airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
In the course of processing the archives of the HIAS Membership department over recent months, a few questions have echoed in my mind: Why does the agency solicit for membership, rather than just donations? Why is membership so important? What does it actually mean to be a HIAS member?
It seems that the answers may be related in part to HIAS’s institutional membership in Federation, and the Federation fund-raising structure designed to maximize effective giving and reduce competition among Jewish charities. The following records in theHIAS archives collection, dating to the 1980s and 90s, have helped me to understand this subject a little better.
(For more on the different types of membership campaigns run by the department, seethis post.)
Member versus contributor
In 1984, newly appointed Executive Vice President Karl Zukerman investigated this topic (see bullet point seven):
Importance of membership
A 1980 letter from Annette Eskind and Walter Bieringer, co-chairs of the Membership Committee, discussed the “clout” a large membership brought the agency in its negotiations with government bodies:
In a 1981 membership campaign report, Director of Fund Raising Hyman Brickman referred to membership campaigns versus other methods of bringing in money:
“While the timing of a campaign is dictated by the Federation, the timing of our request for a campaign is our own choosing. It should not be done while the allocations procedure is underway or an appeal for reconsideration has been filed, lest the community look upon its approval of a campaign as absolving it from giving us our request in full or considering supplementary funding. We must keep the two items separate and apply our maximum efforts to both.”
In the same report, Brickman provided an update on campaign prospects in a community that had not been solicited for membership recently. He described the situation this way:
“The community has not allocated to HIAS for many years, and this problem must first be addressed before we go further with membership, since the latter is intended to supplement the allocation and not be a substitute for it.”
In 1984, Manfred Weil, a Membership Committee member who for years ran a successful “personal campaign” for HIAS in Rhode Island, wrote to committee chair Eskind, stressing to taking care not to conflict with any Federation fund-raising efforts, “even though the appeal is only for membership.” (see page two below)
A 1992 memo from Executive Vice President Martin Wenick to President Martin Kesselhaut referred to the distinction between fund-raising efforts and membership campaigns:
Also included among the Membership records are these local Federation guidelines for independent and supplementary campaigns (see especially page two):
(HIAS membership dues were $50 annually, which is the same amount cited in these guidelines.)
Another Federation granted approval for a HIAS campaign to its members because the solicitation amount fell within a prescribed range:
What it means to be a member
Note: This subject relates to the question of what membership is all about, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Federation.
In 1984, Eskind, who conducted many successful “personal campaigns” for HIAS over a period of years, wrote to Brickman on the subject of membership benefits:
“As requested by you, my personal view on ‘membership benefits’ reflects the comments expressed at the last Board meeting. I do not believe that a group insurance or travel program will enhance membership. I do feel that a well-planned membership drive, appropriate for each community, will be far more productive.”
In the same 1985 membership campaign report cited earlier, Eskind gave a matter-of-fact description of membership (she was discussing campaign prospects in a region that already supported many active volunteer membership groups):
“It is hard to say whether: a) the community would respond to a ‘newcomer’ that is essentially a paper membership, b) the federation would authorize a campaign (their regular campaign has dropped considerably mainly because of a high unemployment rate, necessitating a cut in our allocation after it was made), and c) the federation would, if it did grant clearance, make its lists available. On the positive side is the fact that we have acquired two new Board members from the community. The issue will be explored further with them.”
If I come across any additional documents that shed light on this topic, I’ll be sure to do another post.