The Dream of America

The Seattle Jewish community treated immigrants such as the Naginskys with kindness and respect, preparing and serving them meals at HIAS's Seattle shelter house. Photo courtesy University of Washington Special Collections, UW7530

The local Jewish community treated immigrants such as the Naginskys with kindness and respect, preparing and serving them meals at HIAS’s Seattle shelter house. Photo courtesy University of Washington Special Collections, UW7530

After their long, arduous journey through wartime Russia and Asia, Mariasia Naginsky and her five daughters undoubtedly felt they were on the doorstep of their ultimate destination when they arrived in America in early 1918. Yet 3,000 miles — from Seattle to New York — still separated them from her husband and the children’s father, Aaron Naginsky.

As described in my last post, the Naginskys likely resided temporarily in the home operated by the Seattle branch of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society. The duration of their stay — which averaged about 10 days for most immigrants, as noted in the January 1990 issue of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society newsletter — would be determined by the amount of time it took to process government paperwork and receive funds from relatives for train tickets that would allow the family to reunite. More than $60,000 was sent by telegraph to HIAS to pay for immigrant transportation during 1916 alone, according to an Oct. 7, 1917, article in the Seattle Sunday Times.

A number of activities could have occupied the Naginskys while they waited to proceed to their next destination. Mariasia may have written letters to relatives both in America and Russia, advising them of the family’s safe arrival. As noted in the HIAS instructions, “a supply of stationery and writing utensils should always be at the disposal of the inmates of the Shelter, free of charge, and a competent person able to write in the language of the immigrant should be there every evening to offer his services to those immigrants who are unable to write their own letter for various reasons, and particularly to address their envelopes, or to send off telegrams for them.” A writing room on the first floor of the headquarters building could have been used for this purpose.

HIAS took its responsibility for integrating new immigrants into American society seriously. Mariasia and her daughters likely received instruction in the classrooms located on the third floor of the headquarters building — “where those who stay for any length of time are taught the rudiments of English,” the 1917 Seattle Sunday Times article reported. In the dormitory building’s assembly room, the family also could have attended one of the seasonal lectures offered “to acquaint the newcomer with American life, American institutions, and American ideals,” as noted in the HIAS staff manual.

It’s possible the family was able to enjoy some down time at the HIAS home as well. A library in the headquarters probably offered adult and children’s books in Russian and English, allowing Mariasia and her older children to read or simply peruse them. Meals at the communal dining table, which could accommodate up to 60 people, may have allowed the family to become acquainted with other new arrivals and members of Seattle’s Jewish community; meals were likely prepared by a chef and served by a waiter, both paid staff of the society, as described in the January 1990 Washington State Jewish Historical Society newsletter. If the Naginskys stayed as late as Feb. 12, they may have been treated to “attractive entertainment,” which was suggested within the HIAS manual in observance of national holidays such as Lincoln’s Birthday.

For immigrants such as Mariasia and her daughters, who had lived with so little for so long, their experience at HIAS’ Seattle shelter house probably was part of the dream of what they might find in America.

One comment on “The Dream of America

  1. […] station was designed by the architects of New York’s Grand Central Station, as described by HistoryLink.org, which also noted that the building’s style was sometimes referred to as “Railroad […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s