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Here is a collection of family immigrant stories from across our human experience.
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The year is 1912 and my grandfather Sam Jacobs is nine years old. His family is desperate to get out of Hungary where pograms have become rampant and entire villages of Jews are being murdered. Sam is the youngest of four siblings, so he is the lightest – and therefore easiest – to transport. Miraculously, my great grandparents and their children travel 600 kilometers to the city of Trieste - now part of Italy, and then part of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. They find out that the ship S.S. Saxonia is departing from the port of Fuime on the 12th of October. But after the arduous and expensive journey, they only have enough money for one passenger – the youngest, my grandfather Sam. They place him in the arms of strangers who promise to get him to New York City where – hopefully – there is family waiting for him. Several weeks later, Sam arrives at Ellis Island, clutching the hands of strangers, gets processed in the Great Hall and is met by his Yiddish-speaking rabbi uncle on the other side. Sam then moves into a tenement on the Lower East side and waits two years until his entire family can save enough money and be re-united.
Now comes the story.
In 1993 I decide to take my children to NYC and visit the newly refurbished Ellis Island. When we entered the now empty, vast Great Hall, my rambunctious son starts running and hiding from column to column, his new tennis shoes squeaking on the highly polished, varnished oak floors. I realize with a start that he is nine years old, the same age as his great-grandfather Sam Jacobs was when he passed through this exact location. I literally lean against one of the columns, slide to the floor and let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. Run, my son, run, I think: You are literally running in your great-grandfather’ footsteps, whose family had so much faith and hope in this country that promised freedom from religious persecution. A country that took poor Hungarian Jews and allowed them to thrive in their new home. Without such hope, generations of my family would not be a productive part of the fabric of this great nation.