Delivering Justice for Today’s Immigrants

Immigrants are pictured outside the HIAS home at 512 18th Street. Photo courtesy University of Washington Special Collections, UW1152

Immigrants are pictured outside the HIAS home at 512 18th Street. Photo courtesy University of Washington Special Collections, UW1152

“Here in Seattle, in America’s dooryard, stands the immigrant of yesterday,” stated an Oct. 7, 1917, Seattle Sunday Times article. “With hands outstretched in welcome, he greets the immigrant of today. In sympathy and understanding, he leads him through the gateway and with friendly counsel guides his first footsteps into a haven in the New World. …” That support from the staff and volunteers of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society began for the Naginskys as soon as they set foot on American soil and would continue as they reached the HIAS home.

Situated away from the city’s business district, the facility at 512 18th Avenue was composed of two buildings, one a recently renovated headquarters and the other a newly constructed shelter. According to the Seattle Sunday Times article, the 12-room headquarters — originally built as a residence for Watson C. Squire, a former Washington territorial governor and U.S. senator — had an office and large kitchen and dining room on the first floor. The second floor included sleeping quarters and a private office for the home manager, while the third floor had two classrooms. The basement was used mainly for storage. The shelter building included an assembly room and additional sleeping quarters, with men housed on the lower floor and women and children on the upper floor.

A firsthand account from a woman who as a child had accompanied her mother when she volunteered in the home provided even more vivid details. As reported in the January 1990 issue of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society newsletter, Sara Efron described sleeping quarters with blankets strung across ropes to form individual areas with cots because there was not sufficient space for each of the immigrants to have a private room. Her mother would speak to the immigrants in both Yiddish and Russian, supply bedding from her own home for use in the shelter, and help with sewing needs, just a few of the volunteer activities of Jewish women in the community. Efron also recalled that the grounds included a garden and small farm, supplying residents of the home with vegetables during the winter and fresh eggs daily.

When Mariasia and her daughters arrived at the home, probably late in the day on Friday, Jan. 25, 1918, the staff would have specific plans for them. Representative and home manager Abe Spring described the procedure to the Seattle Sunday Times: “We meet them at the boat on their arrival, bring them here and after they have had a bath and their dinner they come into the office and tell their story,” Spring said. “Nearly all of them have come hoping to find relatives and friends. We send telegrams for them and attend to the notification of these relatives or friends, if they are to be found.”

General instructions prepared for the HIAS representative were even more specific about what the Naginskys likely experienced in their first hours at the home:

Before retiring the first night at the shelter a dose of Epsom salts should be given every one of the inmates according to their ages and state of health. A supply of new underwear and hosiery should always be on hand to replace filthy ones on those inmates who have no clean ones for a change.

Such as in the judgment of the House Committee are entitled to a free suit of clothing, shoes or hat, by reason of their inability to supply themselves with it, should be presented with a modest outfit. …

For all its kindness and generosity, the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society did not see its work as a handout, according to the Seattle Sunday Times. “Its members are endeavoring to give justice rather than charity for the immigrants,” the article stated. “Prominent Jewish business men and residents of Seattle have given freely of their time and money to assist those who have escaped tyranny and oppression seeking asylum in this land of freedom.”

4 comments on “Delivering Justice for Today’s Immigrants

  1. Phyllis Greer says:

    A very kind and generous time! Open hearts and pockets are not so visible these days. You paint a picture that can be seen in my mind….lovely.

  2. […] described in my last post, the Naginskys likely resided temporarily in the home operated by the Seattle branch of the Hebrew […]

  3. […] spirit of tzedakah was evident in the Seattle home operated by the society. As described in my March 11 post, volunteers were actively involved in everything from doing laundry to providing bond from their […]

  4. […] The “Pennsy,” as it was known, traveled from Chicago’s old Union Depot to Pennsylvania Station in New York, which had just opened in 1910. The Pennsy’s most famous train, the Broadway […]

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