Because You Were Strangers: The American Jewish Campaign Against Immigration Restriction, 1895-1924

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Between 1895 and 1924, as the American immigration restriction movement attempted to limit immigration to the United States, an American Jewish anti-restriction campaign developed to combat immigration restriction. The American Jewish campaign against immigration restriction was a primary political concern of native-born and immigrant American Jews during the thirty years of the immigration restriction controversy. In the American Jewish anti-restriction campaign, immigrant Jewish intellectuals, Jewish congressmen and Jewish newspapers in both English and Yiddish fought against immigration restriction, often leading the anti-restrictionists in that controversy. Soon after the beginning of the twentieth century, ordinary American Jews, including Eastern European immigrants, participated in the campaign against immigration restriction by attending meetings and demonstrations, writing to their congressmen, senators and the president and voting for immigration-friendly politicians. Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe were not merely the subjects of the immigration restriction controversy, they were active participants in it. The American Jewish anti-restriction campaign included American Jews of all socio-economic classes, political ideologies and Jewish religious groups. That campaign brought American Jews together, caused Jewish immigrants to find their political voice and brought them into the American political processes. Immigrant Jewish intellectuals, Jewish newspapers and Jewish politicians challenged the foundational ideas of the immigration restriction movement in articles, books and speeches.
In most prior histories of the immigration restriction controversy, restrictionists are protagonists and anti-restrictionists are marginal antagonists. In the few previous studies of Jewish anti-restrictionist activity Central European (“German”) Jews and their organizations have been active participants and the Eastern European (“Russian”) Jewish immigrants have been largely passive, without agency or a voice. In this dissertation the Eastern European Jewish immigrants are shown to have been active and vocal participants in the immigration restriction controversy and the American Jewish campaign against immigration restriction to have been much more inclusive, thorough and pervasive than has previously been described.