Posted on February 18th, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.
On the eve of Valentine’s Day, 100 years ago this week, the lame duck president of the United States, William H. Taft sent a message to Congress conveying his refusal to sign the Dillingham Bill. This veto delayed, but did not end, the efforts to close America’s borders to non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants, including millions of Jews desperate to avoid persecution and war in Europe.
Senator William P. Dillingham of Vermont is now a forgotten figure, but early in the last century he was the leader of a movement to stem the tide of “undesirable” immigration. From 1907 to 1911, concurrent with his Senate duties, he served as chair of the United States Immigration Commission (often called the Dillingham Commission). The Commission spent thousands of dollars studying every alleged connection between Southern and Eastern European immigrants and social degradation, from prostitution to mental illness – and after publishing 41 volumes of detail, to no one’s surprise, concluded that something must be done to protect the nation.
To be fair, it wasn’t the first time that politicians claimed that immigration would be the ruination of our society. Ben Franklin singles out the problem of German immigration in 1753: I am perfectly of your mind, that measures of great Temper are necessary with the Germans: and am not without Apprehensions, that thro’ their indiscretion or Ours, or both, great disorders and inconveniences may one day arise among us; Still it was generally true for much of our early history that merely making it to American territory was deemed sufficient grounds for pursuing a pathway to naturalization. Our first post-Revolution naturalization law offered US citizenship within two years!
Post-Reconstruction attitudes about race began to close the open door, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The whole new pseudo-science of eugenics sought to put a veneer of scholarship on age-old prejudices. The Dillingham Commission opens its report with a “Dictionary of Race” that purports to be able to distinguish between the “races” of Northern Italians and Southern Italians, and repeats well-worn stereotypes about the “race” of Jews.
The Dillingham Bill (S 3175 of the 62nd Congress) that followed the Commission’s report brought a couple of new twists to previous attempts to control immigration. First, it would impose a literacy test on all new immigrants. Second, it would make steamship companies responsible for ensuring that their America-bound passengers could meet this test (imposing steep fines for failing to screen their guests). Nearly every immigrant community, including America’s Jews, understood that these provisions could and would be used to stop immigration and they vigorously opposed the measure.
After all this wasn’t the first time that a “literacy test” had been suggested as a way to curb the rights of individuals. Since 1890, such tests had become a legal fixture in the Jim Crow South, regularly used to bar African-Americans from voting.
A key question about literacy tests is who decides what “literacy” means and who evaluates the qualifications of the applicant. Senator Simmons of North Carolina (who had built his reputation on a “white supremacy campaign”) proposed an amendment to the bill that answered this question in amazing detail:
That for the purpose of testing the ability of the immigrant to read, the inspection officer shall be furnished copies of the Constitution of the United States, printed on uniform pasteboard slips, each containing no less than twenty nor more than twenty-five words of said Constitution printed in the various languages of the immigrant in double small pica type…no two immigrants listed on the same ship manifest shall be tested with the same slip.
The advocates of the Dillingham Bill were not able to secure a super-majority to overcome Taft’s veto. Immediately following their defeat, they switched tactics, dropping their demands for literacy tests in favor of national quotas that directly regulated the flow of people from around the globe. By the 1920s the quotas had blocked the vast majority of those seeking a new life in America from a path to legal immigration.
Reading the arguments on both sides in 1913, I was struck by how little the debate has changed in a hundred years.
The President’s veto message included the argument that the new immigrants added to the economic wealth of the country and were especially critical in supplying farm labor. It also made a practical point that the cost of deporting large waves of immigrants would be too high.
On the other hand, the case made by Dillingham and his allies was that these new immigrants of 1913 were different in character than the old “aryan” immigrants; harder to assimilate, prone to live “with their own” in crowded urban areas, easily exploited by unscrupulous employers, and more likely to become wards of the state or engage in criminal activities.
One might of thought that a century of contributions to our society by the children and grandchildren of Dillingham’s “undesirable” immigrants might have put these arguments to rest but it appears to be one of the great continuities of American life.
This year, the Museum’s annual Risch Program on Immigration will take place on April 14 at 4pm in the Langhorne Auditorium of the University of Baltimore. The program, entitled “Songs of Arrival, Stories of Refuge” will feature HIAS President Mark Hetfield and a musical program that links the Yiddish traditions of the early 20th century with performances by today’s immigrants from Africa, Latin America and Asia. Our history makes it easy to understand this linkage.
Posted on January 21st, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.
On this Martin Luther King Day we quite naturally reflect on the progress made in civil rights in the span of one lifetime. While we still have not reached the ideal world that Dr. King envisioned, the incremental steps we have taken towards a society where content of character trumps color of skin are really quite remarkable. As an American, and especially as an American Jew, I am a beneficiary of the civil rights movement and so I dedicate today’s blog post to all those with the courage to make change.
I am just a little too young to have been an active participant in the events of the late 50s and early 60s. My older sister was an early member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and I do remember intense discussions around the dinner table about whether it was “safe” for her to attend a march.
My closest connection to the civil rights movement actually came many years later. In the 1990′s we joined Congregation Hakafa in Glencoe, IL. The Congregation had been founded by Rabbi Robert J. Marx (pictured here at my daughter’s bat mitzvah party in 1997). Rabbi Marx had been a crusader for causes of civil rights and social justice since he had arrived in Chicago in 1962.
Rabbi Robert J. Marx, with glasses, is pictured with the Rev. Martin Luther King in the 1960s.
Here is a photo of Rabbi Marx with Dr. King from 1968. Marx had joined King’s march for justice in Selma, Alabama and then, as seen in this photo, joined him again when a march down Michigan Avenue took on discrimination in Chicago. As Rabbi Marx tells the story, he was hit with a small stone intended for Dr. King. Worried friends seeing this on the evening news called to ask “were you hurt?”. “No damage, I am fine,” he answered. And then he thought about and added: “No, I am hurt — not by the stone but by the hatred, the bitterness, the rage,” I said.
Rabbi Marx is now 85 and “emeritus” at the Congregation, but he is still active in speaking out on issues…and still fearless when it comes to challenging the status quo. While I may not have agreed with every position took, it was one of my great honors and pleasures to participate in his Sunday discussion groups. It made me feel linked in some small way to the legacy of the brave men and women who have brought about a better America.
In scouring the web for materials about Rabbi Marx, I ran across his 1966 letter to friends and rabbinic colleagues explaining his decision to join the movement. Even though fifty years have passed, I think you’ll find his passion compelling. It is also a fascinating artifact of the arguments within the Jewish community about the role of Judaism in civil rights.
Page 1 of Rabbi Marx's Letter. Click the image to go to the full text.
Posted on December 24th, 2012 by Rachel
A blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert.
News Flash: We have a last minute addition to tomorrow’s Dragons and Dreidels presentation. In addition to Ilene Spector’s delicious discourse on dumplings, in addition to our kosher fortune cookies and Chinese food, and on top of our great family activities and mah jongg games…yours truly, will be running a demonstration table as well.
It’s not a food demonstration – trust me, you wouldn’t want to eat what I cook. And you will also be spared a dissertation on transliteration (see my blog post of Dec.. 12), but it will be a personal passion. In honor of our celebration of East Asian-Judaic connections, I will be demonstrating about a half dozen board games with a real or imaginary Asian link. As a board game enthusiast, I reasoned that if we could make a link with mah jongg, this was surely an excuse to bring some of my other treasures out of the closet.
The oldest game I will be bringing with is Wei Qi (that’s the Chinese name, it’s Korean name is Paduk, but you probably know it as Go). People in China were playing this game 4,000 years ago (or about 2,000 years before dreidel). It has just three or four rules, but takes a lifetime to master. My Paduk board (since I purchased it in Korea, it only seems fair to call it Paduk) is only about 35 years old, but I still have vivid memories of carrying this monster block of wood about a mile through the streets of Seoul. Wei Qi/Paduk/Go is without doubt the most popular East Asian game internationally. Many countries have teams, including Israel. You may want to check out the website of the Israeli Go Association (Israel-go.org). Now I have to add גו to the long list of names for this game.
The second game I am bringing with is Xiang Qi. A relative youngster, Xiang Qi is believed to have been developed from the Indian precursor to chess about 200 B.C. Technically speaking, the set I will have on the table is actually the very closely related Korean variant called Janggi – but you can play the same games with either set. The Xiang in Xiang Qi comes from the Chinese word for elephant, one of the pieces in the game. Each piece has a Chinese character identifying it. Here is a photo of several of the pieces in my set. Can you pick out which ideogram is the elephant? (By the way, elephants are not rooks, they move more like a limited version of the bishop in chess).
The third item on the table will be the Japanese game of Shogi. This is another cousin of chess, but it has a truly distinctive feature. The pieces are all the same color! Each piece is pointed and the direction the point is facing signifies ownership of the piece. This is not an aesthetic innovation. In Shogi, when you capture a piece it doesn’t leave the game. Instead you can drop a piece you’ve captured onto the Board on your turn, switching its allegiance. This game emerges in the 16th and 17th century in Japan, at a time when it was not uncommon for real generals to change the course of battle by changing sides. I’ve looked for a Jewish link to every game, and I believe that one of the three acknowledged American Shogi masters is a Jewish gentleman from Potomac, MD – but this still requires a little investigation. I’ll also be illustrating the child’s game of Hasami Shogi – I call it a child’s game, because my children always beat me at it.
To round out the table I’ll be demonstrating two games that sound like they should be Chinese but really are American/German. The first of these is Chinese Checkers. This game was invented in Germany in the 1880s under the name Stern Halma (Stern = Star in German, Halma = Jump in Greek). While the shape of the board is very suggestive, I haven’t traced down any Jewish connection to the original game. However, the man who rediscovered the game and patented it as Chinese Checkers was Jack Pressman of Pressman Toys. It was a big hit in 1928. Unlike conventional checkers, you don’t capture pieces when you jump them and unlike other classic strategy games, up to six people can play at the same time.
Finally, I will be illustrating the Eurogame called “In the Year of the Dragon”. The theme of the game is the cycle of life in medieval China. The reality is that the game was designed by Stefan Feld in 2011. Feld is one of dozens of game designers in Europe who has gained a following in the hobby in the last decade. Nearly 150,000 people gather in Essen, Germany each year to see the latest innovations in one of the world’s oldest pastimes. In America, a handful of companies translate the German, French and Italian games and make them accessible to thousands of avid board gamers here. My former neighbor from Skokie, IL, Jay Tummelson, and his company Rio Grande Games translated and published “In the Year of the Dragon”.
So if you are curious about games, you have another reason to come to “Dragons and Dreidels”. If not, just think about savoring those dumplings!