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American Ancestors
AJHS - New England Archives
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The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) was founded in New York City in the 1880s by the Russian Jewish community of New York in response to the influx of Russian Jewish immigrants fleeing the pograms in the Pale of Settlement in Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1889, a shelter which was used to house many of the immigrants adopted the name Hebrew Sheltering House Association. This organization merged with HIAS in 1909 and by 1914, had branches operating in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The Boston office of HIAS was chartered in 1904 under the leadership of Harris Poorvu, Hyman Pill, Abraham Alpert, Meyer Bloomfield, Max Wyzanski and Samuel L. Bailen. HIAS operated autonomously from the national office in New York, even after their merger in 1916. Between 1914 and 1916, the Boston HIAS was affiliated with the Federated Jewish Charities (now Combined Jewish Philanthropies). In 1948, HIAS became a member of the Combined Jewish Appeal, another organization that created the current Combined Jewish Philanthropies. Poorvu served as president for twenty years before becoming treasurer. Abraham Alpert was the educational director of HIAS until his death in 1939. Alpert's daughter, Helen, became the long-standing executive director of the Boston HIAS office in 1940.

HIAS ensured that Jewish immigrants had access to holiday and religious services and kosher food; provided shelter and social services; and assisted immigrants with finding employment and schools, often on short notice. After World War I, HIAS worked with individuals to locate displaced families, replace legal documents, and develop an educational program to help immigrants become naturalized citizens. During World War II, immigration was at the forefront of the HIAS mission as Jews attempted to leave Europe for the United States or Palestine. HIAS arranged for sponsors and worked continuously to help the many Jews who wrote to them for help, but immigration quotas made it extremely difficult to help, even when HIAS procured affadavits of sponsorship from relatives.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Boston HIAS office assisted non-Jewish immigrants from Europe, China, and the Middle East. The Boston HIAS office dissolved in the late 1970s, but the national office in New York remains an active force today.

This collection includes records of the Boston HIAS office only. For information about the New York HIAS records, contact the American Jewish Historical Society in New York.

Arrival cards for the HIAS Boston office are available on Ancestry.com

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