The Immigration Experience


 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 

 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 

 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 


"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.


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