HIAS Chicago began in the hearts and deeds of the Chicago Jewish community around 1900. Loosely organized in small associations within the city, its founders worked informally with the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society of New York, which later became the international HIAS organization.
In 1911, Adolph Copeland organized a group of 20 Jewish leaders and chartered HIAS Chicago as an independent Illinois agency with its own Board of Directors. Through the Board’s leadership and commitment, HIAS Chicago developed a strong, cooperative relationship with the international HIAS network that still exists today.
A Tradition Begins
From its founding, HIAS Chicago served those in need of assistance. At that time, thousands of Eastern European Jews were fleeing the Russian Empire where they were restricted to living in certain parts of western Russia - the Pale of Settlement. Their life in the Shtetl revolved around the synagogue, home and marketplace. They lived with severe limitations on their economic activities, and conscription of their young sons. Fear of periodic pogroms also drove them to seek safety in America.
Many of the immigrants who came through HIAS Chicago found life in this metropolitan city overwhelming. They needed help in adjusting to their new and strange surroundings.
Immigration to Chicago
The decades’ long influx of immigrants created many new ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. By 1911, Eastern European Jews were living in an area that stretched from Canal Street to Damen Avenue, and from Polk Street to 16th Street. Its main attraction was the marketplace, Maxwell Street.
The Maxwell Street market was filled with pushcarts, kosher meat markets, and bakeries and shops. People lined the street from dawn until dusk; not just immigrant Jews, but Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Bohemians and others who felt much more at ease in the familiar outdoor market as they learned the language and customs of their adopted country.
It was in this neighborhood that HIAS Chicago first opened its doors on the corner of Maxwell and Morgan Streets. Food, shelter and other services were available to the immigrants who came through HIAS. Fannie D. Copeland, Adolph Copeland's wife, organized the first classes in English, and was an advocate for women and children’s services, encouraging them to learn the new language and to enroll children in school.
HIAS Chicago moved from Maxwell Street to 1214 South Clinton where it maintained a Shelter Home and offices until 1934 when it moved to 130 North Wells Street.
HIAS Chicago Grows
As Hitler rose to power, the demand for HIAS Chicago’s services increased as a new wave of immigrants fled persecution. Another influx came with the survivors from Nazi Germany after World War II. HIAS Chicago adjusted its programs to meet the needs of these new groups of immigrants and helped them resettle around the city.
By 1950, HIAS Chicago was providing a wide range of professional services to immigrants at all stages of the lengthy and complex immigration process. The agency’s services successfully met the challenge of responding to crises across the world, caring for immigrants and refugees through the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.
Between 1970 and 1985, HIAS Chicago assisted those seeking refuge from Iran following its revolution and thousands fleeing from the ravages of the Viet Nam War. HIAS Chicago also helped hundreds of Romanians and Poles find asylum and subsequently become legal permanent residents, and supported the first wave of refugees fleeing the USSR.
In 1983, HIAS Chicago joined in partnership with Jewish Family and Community Service, and with the support of the Jewish Federation of Chicago, moved into the Federation’s building at One South Franklin.
Since the mid-1980’s HIAS Chicago has been a proud partner with other agencies of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago in the historic rescue of Jews from the former Soviet Union. This effort, to date, has brought more than 36,000 refugees, parolees and asylees to the Chicago area and continues to assist those fleeing from persecution from other parts of the world.
HIAS Chicago Today
HIAS Chicago is proud of its long history of dedication and service, helping Jewish people and others from all over the world come to America. HIAS Chicago is a leader among agencies in our community assisting people through the immigration process, resettling in a new country, and getting on and staying on the path to U.S. citizenship.
HIAS Chicago has accomplished this important mission with the help of its caring and professional staff and its committed Board of Directors, many of whom were assisted by HIAS Chicago with their own immigration.