HIAS Chicago To End Refugee Resettlement Program

HIAS Chicago To End Refugee Resettlement Program

BrahmsPlatz, Vienna. View on building housing HIAS office. Credit: Vera Izraelit. 2017

The Brothers’ Keeper

One can rightfully call the HIAS the brothers’ keeper. Since 1881, its resettlement program has been at its core. And it benefited many hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Eastern Europe. By the order of the State Department this program will soon be no more in Chicago. In case you missed the announcement, here is a link: https://www.juf.org/news/local.aspx?id=444227

In the 1970s and late 1980s, HIAS welcomed and supported the Soviet refugees, my family among them in 1976. The word HIAS came into our life in the early 1970s as we were inching toward the Big Decision. We didn’t realize it was an abbreviation for Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. It must have entered through the all-powerful Soviet grapevine. Or the Voice of America reports. There was no other source.

The Address That Counts

At border crossing time, a customs officer examined our address book carefully to ascertain that it contained no Soviet addresses. Of course, it didn’t because we knew better than to break a rule at such a moment. The address book was blank. That is, save for the precious HIAS addresses—BrahmsPlatz in Vienna; Viale Regina Margherita, 3, in Rome—we had no one else outside the Soviet Union.

The organization, we believed, existed for the sole purpose of picking us up at the Vienna train station and leading us by hand to our new home. HIAS arranged our transportation and living expenses and gave us advice. It even picked up the cost of shipping up to a ton (a thousand kilos)

Page one of the Bill of lading for three boxes of household goods weighing a total of 920 kilograms shipped by freight train from Kiev to Vienna, to the Israeli Embassy in Austria, c/o Mikhail Shklyanoy, as client of HIAS.

of household goods—by the time our 920 kilos found us in Chicago we already regretted shipping it.

It’s impossible to imagine how much harder our transition would have been without the HIAS resettlement program. Or if it would be possible at all.

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