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Immigration in a Changing World: The Jewish Experience

Created by:
Liz Orr
Mullica Township Middle School

Beth Perlman
Mullica Township Middle School

Immigration in a Changing World

Grade Level:
6 to 8


In this lesson, students will use primary source documents, biographies, and short video clips to identify and understand the experiences of Jewish-American immigrants, including those of Holocaust survivors. As reinforcement, students will write two or more paragraphs comparing and contrasting the experiences of Jewish-American immigrants during various times in American history.

Historical Context

The first Jewish community dates back to 1654 when 25 Jews settled in New Amsterdam. All but two left North America, but they had already paved the way for what would be a large migration of Jews from Europe throughout the years. Due to the limited opportunities in North America during colonial times, Jews in Europe did not have a great interest in migrating to the region. America was mostly farmland, and in Europe many Jews were excluded from agricultural prospects. By the Revolutionary War, there were only roughly 2,000 Jews living in America out of 2.5 million.

The influx of Jews was not significant until around 1820. Most immigrants were merchants who settled in the cities of Philadelphia, New York, and Charleston. The American Jewish population flourished between 1820 and 1880, when there were approximately 240,000 Jews living in the United States. Many of these immigrants, especially in the late nineteenth century, arrived from Russia where laws discriminated against them. Although Jews fled Europe due to economic and ethnic persecution, they still faced anti-Semitism and many challenges. Jewish Americans tried to find a balance between assimilation and the need to hold on to their traditions and customs.

Many Jews who settled in New Jersey lived on the outskirts of New York and Philadelphia. They experienced anti-Semitism and were restricted from many country clubs and hotels. By 1924 there were 2.5 million Jews living throughout the United States.

After World War II, President Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. Under this law individuals who were persecuted under the Nazi regime were granted permanent residency and employment. This law was extended in 1950 and sheltered many of the survivors who immigrated to New Jersey, particularly those on South Jersey farms. Today, there are approximately 5 million Jews living in America.

ethnic discrimination, civil rights, social justice

Goals and Objectives:

Following this activity, students will be able to:

1. Analyze Albert Einstein's Declaration of Intention.

2. Create a timeline for a Holocaust survivor who migrated to New Jersey.

3. Understand the role of the United States in American-Jewish immigration before World War II.

4. Understand the role of the United States in allowing Holocaust survivors to enter the country.


STANDARD 6.1 (U.S. History: America in the World): All students will acquire the knowledge and skills to think analytically about how past and present interactions of people, cultures, and the environment shape the American heritage. Such knowledge and skills enable students to make informed decisions that reflect fundamental rights and core democratic values as productive citizens in local, national, and global communities.

STANDARD A6.1.8.A.2.c (Civics, Government, and Human Rights): Explain how race, gender, and status affected social, economic, and political opportunities during Colonial time.

STANDARD D6.1.8.D.2b (History, Culture, and Perspectives) Compare and contrast the voluntary and involuntary migratory experiences of different groups of people, and explain why their experiences differed.

STANDARD 6.3 (Active Citizenship in the 21st Century): All students will acquire the skills needed to be active, informed citizens who value diversity and promote cultural understanding by working collaboratively to address the challenges that are inherent in living in an interconnected world.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Computer Lab with internet access

Appendix A: Mary McLoughlin, "The Third Wave: Holocaust Survivors and South Jersey Farms" article

Appendix B: Mary McLoughlin,"How they Lived in the Aftermath: The Legacy of Survivors" article

Appendix C: Declaration of Intention- Blank

Appendix D: Declaration of Intention- Albert Einstein

Appendix E: Interview of Eta Hecht

Appendix F: Interview of Ernest Paul

Appendix G: Interview of Rella Roth

Details of Activity

PART 1: Early Jewish Immigration (10 min.)

Describe Jewish immigration during the colonial period. Explain that there were only 25 Jews in 1654. All but two left America within a short period of time. These early settlers were accepted and set the tone for the influx of American Jews over time.

Teachers may want to familiarize themselves with Appendices A and B, which provide background about Jewish immigration, particularly in the twentieth century.

PART II: Analyzing Primary Source Document (15 min.)

Give an overview of Jewish immigration before World War II. Explain how some Jews were able to leave Europe if they had the means and the opportunity to do so. By 1880, there were approximately 240,000 Jews living in America. By the end of the 1930s there were approximately 4,800,000 Jews living in America.

Show a 6-minute segment of "The Jewish Americans" (Web resource 1). The second section under the heading "Migration and the Diaspora in America" is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg describing the way Jews were treated in the early 1800s and why the "Jew Bill" made a difference.

Divide students into groups of three or four. Have them study the Guess Who Worksheet (Appendix C). Students should write who they think the author is and why under the section marked response. Discuss their responses with the class.

Distribute the Guess Who Revealed worksheet (Appendix D), which identifies the famous Jewish physicist Albert Einstein as the author of the document they just examined. Explain to the students that Einstein, who renounced his German citizenship and left the country in December 1932 fearing for his life because of Nazi threats, accepted an appointment as Professor of Theoretical Physics at Princeton University's Institute of Advanced Study. He was granted permanent residency in 1935 and applied to become a U.S. Citizenship in 1936 through this Declaration of Intent.Four years later, he was granted citizenship.

Ask the students how this story and document affects their view of international migration at the time.

PART III: Creating a Timeline (25 min.)

Show the short film "Open the Gates: Survivors Come to the U.S.," which can be found on the Jewish in America website under the tab 1940-1948 after the introduction (Web Resource 2). This 3-minute film briefly describes Holocaust survivors' experiences after World War II and the efforts of American activists to create political asylum for them (and others in the future) through the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950.

Explain that from 1946-1952 between 2,500 and 3,000 Holocaust survivors settled in New Jersey. Unlike Einstein, many settled on chicken farms because Jewish organizations granted them farm loans and, as many will tell you today, they did not need to speak English well to tend chickens.

Explain to students that they are now going to learn about three Holocaust survivors who settled in New Jersey after WWII. Divide students into 3-6 groups and give each group one of three short biographies of a survivor (Appendices E-G). Using the Interactive Timeline (Web Resource 3), have students construct a timeline based on their readings. One student from each group will present the timeline to the class.

Wrap-Up Discussion (5 min.)

Discuss with the class the differences in the role of the United States in welcoming Jewish American immigrants during the Colonial Period, before World War II, and after World War II.

Practice and Reinforcement

Write at least two paragraphs comparing and contrasting the role of the United States in welcoming Jewish American immigrants during various periods of American History.

Maryann McGloughlin (ed.), Portraits of Resilience (Margate, NJ: ComteQ Publishing, 2008). For relevant sections, see Appendices A&B

Web Links:
PBS, "The Jewish Americans"

"Jews in America: Our Story," documentary

Timline Program

Supplementary Materials







For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here