The year was 1936. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was one of the early constituent agencies of the Associated Jewish Charities, precursor to The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. On the cusp of World War II, HIAS staff members were working frantically around the clock to do whatever they could to help as many Jews flee Europe as possible.
As one HIAS professional at the time put it, “Here, we are interrupted by a phone call — ‘How can I send old clothes to Poland?’ The person is told that information in Yiddish and English will be mailed immediately. Another phone call by a social worker [is] from a sister of a German refugee, anxious to have affidavits of support sent to him. An appointment is made for her to call the next day.”
HIAS was handling applications for citizenship papers, helping locate relatives, interpreting immigration laws, sending bonds to relatives in Europe, conferring with federal, municipal and other organizations, all on behalf of Jewish Baltimore. For many here, this was not the first or last time that The Associated would help Jewish refugees start over in a new land. From Eastern Europeans fleeing pogroms to Jews from Arab countries escaping anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, it was The Associated that they turned to for support.
This year, The Associated celebrates 100 years of supporting the community. Over the years, it has welcomed Jewish immigrants escaping pogroms, the Holocaust, communism and anti-Semitism in Europe, Arab countries, Iran and around the globe.
“Whether providing financial assistance and loans to help them get a fresh start, offering English classes so they could learn the new language, or providing job placement and emploment counseling, The Associated has ensured that immigrants and their families would successfully integrate into American life.
Following World War II, Jewish immigrants would arrive from all over the globe, in small and large waves, like the Hungarian refugees escaping communism.
Twenty-five Hungarian families arrived in Baltimore, and the Associated Placement and Guidance Bureau launched “Operation English,” with “practically every member of the agency’s board involved in the teaching-tutoring project,” according to J. Leo Levy Jr., the agency’s president. Within a short period, APGB succeeded in finding employment for members of all of the newly arrived Hungarian families.
Yet it was in the 1970s when the next wave of immigrants began appearing on Baltimore’s shores. Approximately 10,000 Jews from the Soviet Union would immigrate to Baltimore from the mid-to-late 1970s through the early 1990s.
Accommodating the newly arrived refugees brought additional challenges. The Associated’s agencies mobilized immediately. HIAS worked in conjunction with numerous agencies on resettlement and acculturation. CHAI provided newcomers with rental information and home-ownership assistance. Jewish Family Services handled pre-resettlement orientation, case management and counseling.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Board of Jewish Education provided scholarships for immigrant children to attend Jewish nursery and religious schools and offered programs to teach families about their own religion, which they had been forbidden to practice in the Soviet Union.
And newly arrived Jews were welcomed with Purim parties, picnics and an annual reception for New Americans in order to integrate them into the Jewish community and help them feel more at ease in their adopted country.
Today, this melting pot of Jews from Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Egypt, Iran and the Arab countries, Cuba, Israel and more are an integral part of Baltimore’s Jewish community, thanks to The Associated and its constituent agencies.
For information about The Associated’s yearlong Centennial celebration, visit https://associated.org/celebrating-100/a-century-of-growth-change-and-resilience/
Rochelle C. Eisenberg is assistant vice president of marketing for The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
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