Jewish immigration to the United States can be described in stages. Arthur Kurzweil in his book From Generation to Generation (1980) defines five different stages.
1654-1825 (171 years)
The first Jewish settlers, 23 in all, came to New Amsterdam, New York. Throughout this long period the numbers were small and assimilation was most common. By the time of the American Revolution there were Jews in all 13 colonies. They were mostly Sephardic and German Jews totaling only 1,500 by 1790.
1825-1880 (55 years)
The Jewish population increased significantly. The United States became a major center of the world’s Jews, from 6,000 in 1826 to 280,000 by 1880 (47-fold increase). German Jews dominated this wave of immigrants. Many of them did not stay on the East Coast. They became peddlers and traveling salesmen and settled in the mid-west.
1881-1929 (48 year period)
The Jewish population rose from 280,000 to 4,500,000 (16-fold increase) by 1925. This represented a major event in all of Jewish history. Between 1881-1914, 2.2million Jews left Europe. Most of them came to the United States. Herschel Eisenberg was one of them. Like the others, Herschel believed that the voyage to America was much less dangerous than remaining in Russia. He was the first of the seven Ajzenbergs who were to follow him. All Ajzenbergs who immigrated to America came during this period. They were part of the greatest wave of immigration that the Jewish people were ever to experience. They were fleeing all of Eastern Europe where life was unbearable due to progroms, war, expulsion, anti-Semitism, but mostly because of the high population which could not survive economically (poverty).
By 1918 the USA contained the largest Jewish community in the world. Most of this torrent of immigrants disembarked at Ellis Island in New York harbor. My family was part of this tidal wave.
In 1906 Herschel Eisenberg had come alone. His sister, Sara, followed in 1908. Twelve years later his sister, Ryfka, arrived in 1920. A year later Dov Berel, Elka, Leja, and Mowsza came together. Thus in a span of only 15 years all Ajzenbergs who were to immigrate to the United States did so. The links with their place of birth and hundred of years of history in The Pale of Settlement were broken forever.
This is my family's era in American Jewish history, a milestone era in the history of all Jews. Families transplanted themselves from one side of the world to the other. Individuals and families left their ancestral home of generations to establish new roots in America.
“The overwhelming majority of the six million Jews who live in America today (1976) are descendants of the immigrants who came to this country from the shtetls which existed for over 600 years, until their destruction in World War II by the Germans”
“Why did they come? …The main reason was clear: to get away. To get away from the czar and his army, which grabbed Jewish boys for incredible lengths of service (at some points for as long as twenty-five years) and sometimes subjected them to forced conversions. To get away from the stagnation, the hunger, the hopelessness. To get away from drunken policemen and brutalizing peasants.
There was the lure of the New World, di goldeneh medina, (the golden land) as the immigrants called it. In letters back to the ‘old country’ they wrote that here you could work yourself to the bone, work yourself into TB sanitariums, but still work yourself up, and bring relatives over and send children to schools. Those who came were concerned with the future, for themselves and their children”.
The remaining periods of immigration were:
1929-1945 (16 years) Beginning of Depression - end of World War II. There was little or no immigration during the war years. The total number during this period was only 124,000.
1945-1980 Holocaust survivors immigrated from 1947-1951 as a result of the Displaced Persons Act of 1947. In the 1960’s, 73 Jews came from Israel, Cuba and the Near East.
Since then the largest numbers of Jews have come from the former Soviet Union.
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