Hasia Diner, professor of American Jewish history at New York University, was the Day of Learning Scholar on Labor Day (Sept 3) for the Foundation for Jewish Studies, of which I am vice-president. She gave four separate lectures; I wrote down the particular thoughts that I found most interesting. There were 47 of them. I think my notes are pretty accurate.
1. The United States today has the same percentage of immigrants as the country did during the early part of the 20th century. This is a second transformative period for the country.
2. For Italian immigrants, men outnumbered women. For Irish immigrants, women outnumbered men. For Jewish immigrants, the number of males and females were pretty well the same, although they didn’t always come at the same time – often men came first, and then brought their wives over.
3. There are false narratives associated with Jewish immigration. First, that pogroms and other violence were the prime reasons for immigration. Second, that names were changed by officials at Ellis Island.
4. Jews left Europe primarily for economic reasons because of (a) population growth, (b) change from home production to industrial production, (c) spread of railroads, mail, underwater cables. Generally, information flow.
5. The earliest immigration and by percentage the greatest immigration came from Lithuania, because it was the poorest Jewish population, the most overpopulated, and close to railroads and ports. Lithuanian emigration started in the 1860; immigration from the Ukraine, for example, did not start until the 1910s. Some Lithuanian Jews went to other places – like South Africa, but also like the Ukraine.
6. Age of immigrating Jews: 25% under 14, 50% between 15 and 39, 25% over 40.
7. As Irish women got jobs as housekeepers, Jewish women got jobs in the garment industry.
8. The poorest Jews did not immigrate; they could not afford to. The wealthiest didn’t immigrate; there was no reason for them to. Working class Jews immigrated. If the poorest Jews, did not immigrate, why are there so many family stories about arriving penniless? Because they spent all their money to get here.
9. 1/3 of European Jews and Italians left their homes; 1/4 of Irish.
10. The only study Diner knows about which studied the personal characteristics of those who emigrated was conducted in Norway, in one town. It found that the emigrants were hard to handle, the deviants, the risk takers.
11. The most traditional Jews stayed home. Rabbis sermonized against moving to a trayf land. The least observant didn’t necessarily immigrate, either; they often left home and moved to the big cities (there was a big increase in city population, and small communities were becoming depopulated).
12. Immigrants were a big source of money sent back home, so immigration was often good for parents who stayed home. (Studies in Ireland showed that 1/3 of the money at home came from immigrant remittances.) When money came home, it liberated the recipients from control of the community welfare agencies. Remittances also made it possible for other family members to emigrate.
13. Of all European immigrants, 3/5 came to the United States. Of Jewish immigrants, it was 90%.
14. The more immigration that took place, the more additional immigration was encouraged, as people came to join people they knew who had already immigrated.
15. Jewish immigrants were helped by HIAS and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
16. The United States was never anti-Jewish. It was more anti-Catholic, and anti-Radical. Talk about immigrant “races” started in the 1870s. The concept that certain “races” were mentally inferior, alcoholics, criminals. Eugenics became the science of the day; “race” was really referring to “ethnicity”.
17. Yes, Jews were active radicals, but so were other immigrant groups, as well.
18. On American forms, Jews were always characterized as “white”, whether the question was of “race” or “color’.
19. Only about 2% of potential immigrants were returned to Europe for health or other reasons. Typically, clearance through Ellis Island took about 3 hours. There were some deported during the Red Scare – but it was just a few thousand.
20. Historians can’t rely too heavily on memoirs; they tend to get distorted for many reasons. The same is true for census data which is based on self reporting. In addition, immigrants often lied on immigration forms – lied about age, occupation, etc. There was no requirement for most of this period for corroborating documentation. Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets did a large study of comparing Russian emigration records and American immigration records of 1905, which showed this.
21. When immigration was basically shut down in the 1920s by Congress, immigration of southern blacks coming north started. Largely became northern industry had jobs and needed workers. Similarly, Jewish immigration in significant numbers to Palestine didn’t start until the 1920s, when Jews could no longer immigrate to the US.
22. Jews in Europe were often middlemen – bringing goods from the farmer or manufacturer to the point of distribution. But when serfdom was abolished and railroads reached to more places, middlemen jobs were no longer so important. At the same time, Jewish births were increasing, and early life deaths decreasing.
23. Originally, the United States had no laws restricting immigrants, and no documentation required of immigrants. Whoever came and wanted to stay could (although a few states did have anti-pauper laws).
24. The Constitution gives Congress power over “naturalization”. In the 1790s, a procedure was established requiring a 2 year residency before one could apply for citizenship, as long as you were free, white, and ___________. No real laws were passed until the 1880s.
25. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. No more Chinese could enter the country and those already here could not return if they left.
26. In 1875, the Supreme Court ruled that individual states could not impose immigration taxes. In 1885, Congress passed a law forbidding indenture or contract labor. (But there was no enforcement mechanism)
27. In 1891, the Bureau of Immigration was established, and in 1892 Ellis Island and certain other immigration centers were open (Galveston opened in 1906). They began to keep records. Immigrants were often classified by their names (e.g., if you were named Sullivan, you’d be Irish, no matter where you came from). Immigrants did have to fill out papers, but they weren’t filled out until you reached the U.S., and weren’t checked against anything at first.
28. Because many names had been written in Hebrew/Yiddish or Russia/Cyrillic script, they were spelled in English script for the first time at the immigration letters. Hence, the difference between spellings of the same name. Various German Jewish organizations (Hilfverein) were helping Jewish immigrants enter the country, which is why so many names were Germanized (e.g., Rozenblit – in Poland – became Rosenblatt in the US.
29. In 1892 (?), Congress passed a law prohibiting immigration of convicts, lunatics, idiots or paupers. In the 1890s, the Immigration Restriction League arose, suggesting there be a literacy test for immigrants (in any language) – it was not passed until 1917, when it also prohibited anarchists.
30. After 1907, immigrants could not have infectious diseases, or physical or mental disability. The law that was passed in 1917 (over veto of Pres. Wilson) lists all the undesirables – including political radicals, prostitutes, and all illiterates over the age of 16 (designed against Irish and Italians). Concern of certain groups destabilizing American society, particularly as ethnic groups already in the United States were beginning to align with their home countries while World War I was raging in Europe.
31. In 1921, Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, which put a numerical limit on immigrants from various countries, with the Department of Labor setting the numbers, but with overall quotas of 3% of those numbers of particular groups already in the country according to the 1910 census. (No quotas on anyone from Western Hemisphere, and no admission of Asians) In 1924, modified down to 2% of those in the country as of 1890 census.
32. These laws also required that prospective immigrants first get visas from consulate offices in their country of origin, along with documentation to prove the accuracy of their background information. So if you did not have such documentation, or could not get to a consulate, you were left out. And there were very long waiting lists – in some places, many years.
33. There was never a “Jewish” quota. Everything was by country of origin. But it wasn’t really country of origin, because some of these “countries” didn’t exist in 1890. Take Poland as an example, which was then in the Russian empire. So, the government hired all sorts of experts, and the determinations were very complicated, and designed to discourage immigration in general. For really the first time, the concept of illegal immigration arose.
34. Because immigration from the western hemisphere was unrestricted, Jews often went to Canada or Mexico, Cuba or Argentina. Organizations in those places helped them immigrate to the U.S. where, according to the law they were illegal, but they got in and faded into society. In 1936, there was apparently a law passed that allowed those in the country to go to Canada, reapply, and enter legally
35. The term “Melting Pot” came into use about 1900 – in part because of Zangwell’s book.
36. Jewish organizations opposed immigration restrictions generally, on the theory that anything keeping “them” out, could later be used to keep “us” out.
37. total Jewish immigration 1820-1920 was about 3 million. (Italians went to S. America as well; Irish to British commonwealth)
38. 1860-1880 time of German Jewish immigration. It’s the German Jews who set the pattern for American Jewish life. Between 1820-1870, 250,000 Jews came. They were “German” but there was no Germany until 1871. Jews from Moravia, Bohemia, Hungary, etc. all were considered German because they spoke German. Also, western Poland (Silesia, Posnan), which had been Polish but were taken over by Prussia; many here spoke Yiddish, not German, and lived like in Eastern Europe. 1/6 of the Jews who came during this period came from east of the Elbe River.
39. These “German Jews” had been middlemen, but the economy was declining; they were mainly young men, who came and started out as peddlers. This became the nuclear of Jewish shop owners and the garment industry, and some not only sold, but bought old rags. Most of them were not the German Jews who had been completely Germanized; they were the least Germanized. They became more Germanized once they got here.
40. Chain migration. First the men, then wives, children, parents, siblings, etc.
41. In some places during this period, the number of Jews allowed to marry was limited, so people came here to find a spouse.
42. The emancipation of Jews in Europe did not lessen Jewish immigration here.
43. The first rabbi immigrated here in 1840, but there were very few rabbis who came to America. Those who did come had been influenced by reform in German practice. But they were unable to interest many in their own customs and practices, and soon it was decided that America must train its own rabbis. The leaders of Reform Judaism in Germany had no reason to come here. American Reform grew first in the midwest in part because there was no other form of Judaism established there to provide competition.
44. Many early American reform congregations bought old churches (often German Jewish women’s organizations raised the money). The churches were not built for separate sex seating, had no reading stand, and had a choir loft.
45. The biggest years for Jewish immigration were 1910-1914. World War I (1914) and the Russian Revolution (1917) disrupted immigration, as people were stranded. If a husband came in 1913, his wife might not be able to come for another 10 years. Much family disruption. This is why there were so many husbands who disappeared during the 1920s. There were so many that the National Council of Jewish Women hired Pinkerton Detectives to search them out; this was not successful. A Jewish desertion bureau was also formed. This was not so much because the wives longed for their husbands, but because they wanted child support.
46. As compared to other immigrant groups, a greater percentage of Jews stayed in New York City. This was in large part because of the jobs available in the garment industry.
47. Very few Jews came because of pogroms, or had ever seen a pogrom. But after immigration was cut off, organizations who opposed the new immigration restrictions needed arguments to reopen the immigration gates. And the danger that people would be killed during pogroms was a good issue to make people sympathize with the situation that Jews found themselves in.