The Immigrant 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 America.
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
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
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
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
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
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 star.
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 Americans.
"Asian Americans" Grolier's Online Encyclopedia. 1991 ed.
"Chinese Exclusion Act" Grolier's Online Encyclopedia. 1991
"Ellis Island" Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia. 1986 ed.
Fallows, James. "The Mind of Japan" U.S. News and World
Report 2 December
Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers. New York and London:
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
Jews. West Orange, New Jersey: Behrman House Publishers,