Historians have estimated that one out of every two Americans can trace his or her roots back to an immigrant who landed at Ellis Island. Growing from organizations founded in 1881 to assist Jewish migrants arriving there, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society has touched the life of nearly every Jewish family in America.
The Early Years
From humble beginnings in a storefront on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the agency provided much-needed comfort and aid to thousands of new arrivals to these shores. It soon became famous worldwide -- and in many languages -- as HIAS, the abbreviation that was its first cable address. Learn More . . .
The War Years
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought the largest influx of Jews from Eastern Europe yet; 138,051 in that year alone. But soon after, restrictions on immigration hampered HIAS' efforts. A literacy test was legislated in 1917 and quota legislation was passed in 1921 and 1924. The National Origins Quota restricted the number of immigrants allowed into America to no more than two percent of the number of each nationality residing in the U.S. in 1890. This severely restricted the entry of Jews from Eastern Europe. Learn More...
Since 1950, HIAS' activities have mirrored world events. In 1956, HIAS rescued Jews fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary and evacuated the Jewish community of Egypt after their expulsion during the Sinai Campaign. During the Cuban revolution in 1959, HIAS set up operations in Miami to rescue the Jews of Cuba. During the early 1960s, HIAS rescued Jews from Algeria and Libya and arranged with Morocco's King Hassan for the evacuation of his country's huge Jewish community to France and, eventually, Israel. Learn More...