When Emma Lazarus, 5th generation American, wrote the New Colossus in 1883, she knew that not all Americans accepted the idea of Lady Liberty as a “Mother of Exiles” who embraced the “tired… poor… huddled masses.” Yet Lazarus’s belief in a country strengthened by those “yearning to breathe free” motivated her to write on behalf of immigrants and a progressive and welcoming America. For a period of over forty years, when rhetoric exhorting immigration restriction dominated the political discourse, American Jewish individuals and organizations struggled to keep the lamp lifted. And as world events accelerated the urgency of finding a refuge for Jews in particular, they formed new committees and organizations. After the war, efforts shifted to resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, as the general immigration restrictions would not be lifted until the 1960’s. These stories from the AJHS archive show how even in a period where the dominant rhetoric was that of “no immigration,” immigrant rights remained critical to the ambitions of many American Jewish organizations, and to their ultimate sense of American identity. They recognized the bonds of the shared immigrant and refugee experience. They carried the torch.
This exhibit closed on
Tuesday, March 31, 2020