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HIAS Offers Aid to New Arrivals

For most immigrants, arrival at Ellis Island and other U.S. ports was a daunting experience. The dazed newcomers had to undergo medical examinations and personal interviews about their finances, worrying all the while that the "wrong" answer would result in their being denied entry to the U.S. Once past this hurdle, they had to exchange money and find accommodations. In 1902, an American Jewish organization, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) was established to ease the transition of arriving Jewish immigrants.

 

 

HIAS volunteers at Ellis Island and other ports of entry served as interpreters, helped immigrants locate relatives or places to live, and provided temporary housing, legal aid, and employment assistance. Following is an excerpt from a Yiddish-language pamphlet distributed to Jewish immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, ca. 1912.

The immigrant who needs assistance from [HIAS] agents should hold in his hand or have pinned upon his coat . . . the card of identification which has been given out by the ship's doctor. . . . The agent will come to meet the immigrants and, when necessary, will act as their interpreter in the examination that is necessary before admission.

The immigrants who have been admitted, but have neither relatives nor friends to receive them, are taken by these same agents to the office of HIAS. . . . They will be accompanied, together with their baggage, either to their respective destinations in other parts of the city, or to the railway station to continue their journey. The agents who undertake this duty are entirely worthy of confidence, and their services are rendered without any charge whatever. . . .

The home of HIAS is open day and night. . . . Accommodations are provided for men, women and children. There is an interpreter for Oriental Jews . . . . Pen, ink and paper are supplied free, as are also newspapers. Immigrants may use this Society as a forwarding address for letters. There are excellent baths, always at the free disposal of guests.

 

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