They are our grandparents, our relatives, our friends. They are the immigrants. They came from all over the world for many reasons, such as, religious persecution and racial tension, but the largest reason for coming to America was for freedom. The freedom to live where we want, to own property, to take part in the government and most importantly, the freedom to be treated like a human being.
Coming over was extremely difficult. For some, there were good, seaworthy boats, but most boats were overcrowded, dirty, and disgusting. For Jews, the passage was extremely difficult because of the non-kosher ship food. People were pushed together like cattle. Most people became seasick.
From one account came descriptions of unsanitary bathrooms. This, surely, must have been torture, but, hopefully, most immigrants found the dreadful trip to be worth the freedom at the other end.
Ellis Island, also, was far from sanitary. The people would break down into lines, and walk by a doctor, trying to hide any physical problems. Children over two had to be able to walk by themselves. If the doctor noticed anything wrong he would use a piece of chalk to show the person required further inspection. If, this was indeed the case, the person would be set aside in a cage.
Another test was that of sanity. An interpreter would ask each person a few questions just to find a sensible answer to test mental stability.
The last and most feared doctor checked for disease by lifting the eyelid. He scared children, and probably spread more disease than the people he checked. From an eyewitness account, his gloves were not sterile, and he did not change or even wash them between examinations. I, myself, found this disgusting, and dangerous.
Then, immigrants filed into lines by nationality to be questioned. The questions scared many people. Should they tell the truth or lie. Which answer would make sure that they could stay in America.
Later, for Jews, help came. A group called the "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society," (HIAS) told them to tell the truth, and helped them through the period between leaving the boat and getting settled in the west.
Some officials were corrupt, and allowed bribes. This makes me wonder, if this was the land of freedom and justice as it had been claimed. Through the ordeal, one thing is certain. All of the immigrants passing through Ellis Island were scared and confused. It was one feeling that most of these people would probably be exposed to for the next few months.
There were many restrictions. People with certain diseases would be sent back. Laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, would not let certain nationalities into America. In the early twentieth century it was decided that Japanese people would not be allowed into America. This was surely not the land of liberty that had been promised by our forefathers.
One of the nationalities traveling to America were Jews. They were treated somewhat differently. This was probably because many of their countries would not accept them.
The first Jews in the new world were Morranos from Spain. They fled their homeland because of the inquisition. They traveled from Spain to South America, and then to New Amsterdam. They, at first were rejected by Peter Stuyvesant, but petitioned the Dutch West India Company of Amsterdam, Holland, and, eventually were let into the colony.
Stuyvesant was determined to make life hard for the Jews, and therefore denied them the right to build a synagogue. Luckily, for the Jews, the colony was soon to be taken over by the British. Under certain British naturalization laws, the Jews were able to build a synagogue in the colony.
Jews in Savannah were accepted, but only to a degree. This was because of Samuel Nunes, a Jewish doctor who helped to stop a disease that had already killed many people. Even then, Jews were given land away from the main town.
In the American Revolution Jews did not take any specific sides. Some believed that the freedom that they had gained under the English rule would be lost. Other felt that the taxes were too high and joined the Patriots.
Later, in the Civil War, Jews took sides as everyone else. Their location meant everything. Jews in the north sided with the Union, and Jews in the south sided with the Confederacy.
Unfortunately, a law was passed by Congress forbidding Jewish Chaplains in the Union army. Congress later passed a law stating that chaplains had to be "ministers of some religious denomination," which included Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis.
Then, more trouble came for the Jews. Ulysees S. Grant ordered that all Jews in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee were to be removed. Fortunately, Lincoln cancelled the order as soon as he found out.
Later, between 1880 and 1925, many Jews came to America to escape anti semitism. One of the acts of anti-semitism was church supported violence against Jews in Eastern Europe (before World War I), which was legal. There were also laws which discriminated against Jews. In Russia, a czar had been assassinated, and Jews were blamed out of fear of a revolution. This caused a flood of immigrants into the United States.
Most of America's famous people are descended from immigrants if they are not immigrants themselves. People, like Albert Einstein, a famous physicist, and Henry Kissinger, who was Secretary of State, and helped to open up negotiations with China, were Jewish immigrants.
People like Bob Hope, who was born in England, have contributed richly to our culture. Charlie Chaplin, also from England, was a silent movie star.
America is made of many different cultures, all of which have contributed to the American way of life.
Jews contributed doctors and lawyers. Japanese are computer and business contributors. Koreans are well educated and have been involved in many professional, technical, and managerial careers. African Americans have contributed music, science, literature, entertainment, and many other things to our culture. Our culture is derived from many different ones, and cannot be broken down into which group contributes what because each group has done so much.
All this proves that Americans are not just one people. We are individuals from different cultures. We are different, but we are all Americans.
"Asian Americans" Grolier's Online Encyclopedia. 1991 ed.
"Chinese Exclusion Act" Grolier's Online Encyclopedia. 1991 ed.
"Ellis Island" Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. 1986 ed.
Fallows, James. "The Mind of Japan" U.S. News and World Report 2 December 1983: 36
Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976
Interview with Mollie Greenblatt, Brooklyn, New York 1991
Interview with Nathan Laks, Elizabeth, New Jersey 1991
Kenvin, Helen Schwartz. This Land of Liberty - A History of America's
Jews. West Orange, New Jersey: Behrman House Publishers, 1986.