Image by Bethany McGarry
The history of the Jewish people in the 20th century is a story of immigration, of people fleeing persecution around the world to find safe havens, including the United States. Many of these people came to Chicago and, in response, the Jewish community allied itself with the burgeoning Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of New York. The organization, which became the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) shortly after the turn of the century, led to the chartering of HIAS Chicago in 1911. Since then, the organization has served its community as a beacon of hope for immigrants hoping to start a new life in Chicago.
HIAS Chicago has been at the forefront in responding to many critical events in Jewish history, ranging from the immigration that followed the early 20th-century pogroms of the Russian Empire in Eastern Europe to the continued emigration occurring today among Jews in the former Soviet Union. In addition to responding to waves of Jewish immigration – especially before, during, and after the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany – HIAS Chicago has responded to refugee crises, such as those which followed the Iranian revolution and the Vietnam War. In the past 30 years, HIAS Chicago has assisted well over 36,000 people emigrating from the former Soviet states. In 2014 alone, more than 1,000 people benefited from the organization’s services, including 608 new U.S. citizens.
The organization offers a broad range of services that include assistance with the citizenship process to pre-migration processing and support. HIAS Chicago provides scholarships to promising immigrants, helps young people to obtain approval for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and assists Holocaust survivors in obtaining reparations. HIAS Chicago has also been at the forefront of advocacy for immigrants and refugees, partnering with organizations such as the National Immigration Forum and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in order to lobby for the rights of those who wish to make a new life in the United States.
To learn more about the mission of HIAS Chicago, visit hiaschicago.org.