On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He was carrying several firearms with him. He opened fire, leaving eleven people dead and seven injured. Obviously I do not condone what he did.
Robert Bowers commented on Gab that HIAS is a “sugar-coated evil.” What is this HIAS, and what was Robert Bowers’ complaint with it?
HIAS is the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. There is a lot of Talmudic quibbling over exactly when this organization was founded. A good working number is the year 1891.
Its original mission was to assist Jews that were immigrating to the United States. Around 1891 many Jewish residents of Russia were expelled. HIAS supporters provided assistance to these Jews who would have otherwise been turned away. They provided translation services. They guided immigrants through the medical screening process. They argued before boards to prevent deportation proceedings. If a Jewish immigrant did not have the money to pay the landing fee, HIAS lent him $25.
In 1904 HIAS set up a formal bureau on Ellis Island.
Many Jews who came to the United States came on board steamships. They travelled in steerage. They refused the non-kosher food that was served on board the ship. They arrived at Ellis Island malnourished and vulnerable to deportation on medical grounds. In response in 1911 HIAS set up a kosher kitchen on Ellis Island.
During World War I it became difficult for immigrants to cross the Atlantic because of the presence of German U-boats. HIAS provided communication services for Jewish families in the United States with their relatives in Europe.
Between the wars, there were three organizations (one in Paris, one in London, and one in New York) that facilitated Jewish immigration to the United States.
During World War II, HICEM (the Paris branch of HIAS) opened an office in Marseilles in the “free zone” of Vichy France. After the Germans occupied all of France, HICEM engaged in clandestine activities.
After the war, HIAS played an active role in assisting Jews who wanted to emigrate from the Soviet Union. In 1966 Premier Alexei Kosygin gave a speech in Paris. He said he would assist Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union to live elsewhere. In spite of what Kosygin said, Soviet bureaucrats did everything in their power to make it difficult for potential émigrés. Many abandoned the process when their initial applications were rejected. In December 1972 a “Diploma Tax” was instituted. It required a Jew to pay for the higher education he had received in the Soviet Union if he wanted to leave the country. In March of 1973 the tax was revoked because of international pressure. In December of 1973 the U.S. Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. This linked trade agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union with the freedom of Soviet citizens to emigrate.
Jews leaving the Soviet Union made their first stop in Vienna. Those headed toward Israel were greeted by a representative of JAFI (Jewish Agency for Israel) and those headed toward the United States were greeted by a representative of HIAS.
In November of 1989, President George H. W. Bush signed the Morrison-Lautenberg Amendment into law. This law established that a category group “may establish a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. . . by asserting a credible basis for concern about the possibility of such persecution.”
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