Letter from the CEO

Posted on Fri, Jul 07, 2006 at 14:03 pm

by Gideon Aronoff, HIAS President and CEO

In 2006 we celebrated our quasquicentennial – that’s 125 years of rescue, resettlement, and reunion. One hundred and twenty-five is a remarkable milestone for any organization, but for HIAS and the American Jewish community, it was an accomplishment of which we were immensely proud.

We derived our mission from the teaching Kol Yisrael Arevim Ze ba Ze (all Jews are responsible, one for the other), the Torah’s injunction to welcome the stranger and the essential principle of Pidyyon Shevuyim (redeem the captive). Since 1881, our mission has been to aid Jews and others whose lives and freedom are in danger, and has thus become a part of virtually every American Jewish family.

After those earliest days of HIAS in the late 1880s, when our forbears helped Jews fleeing pogroms and famine in Czarist Russia, the organization adapted as needed to serve Jews everywhere. During World War I, starving European refugees were rescued and brought to lands of freedom. Before the Holocaust, HIAS struggled to find safe havens for Jews who could escape the growing Nazi threat, and later brought thousands of survivors to America and elsewhere where they could rebuild their lives.

In the 1950s HIAS smuggled Jews away from the Communists in Cuba and Hungary. In the ’60s and ’70s, refugees from the Soviet Union, Northern Africa and the Arab countries were helped by HIAS. In the `80s and `90s, HIAS helped more than 300,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) seek resettlement from persecution, as well as provided direct representation to hundreds of Jewish applicants for political asylum from the FSU, Syria and Iran.

These days, HIAS faces challenges at home and abroad. The raging national debate on comprehensive immigration reform has made many people stop a while and think about what America means to them; what immigrants contribute; and what we need to do as a country to stay safe, yet welcoming as a nation. We welcome this healthy debate, because we believe that in the end smart immigration policies will not only keep our borders secure and our citizens safe, but they will also allow America to continue to be the shining beacon of freedom it has always been.

Gideon Aronoff
President and CEO