HIAS celebrates its Centennial with a Freedom Grove

"We are a people, a nation of immigrants, who honor our roots," said Jeffrey Kriezelman, chairman of the board of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society of Chicago (HIAS Chicago). 

And so in honor of HIAS Chicago's milestone Centennial and the tens of thousands of immigrants that have planted roots in this community through HIAS Chicago, on Thursday, June 21, a Freedom Grove of 100 trees will be dedicated. 

"Trees are like immigrants who come to this country," said Suzanne Franklin, director of HIAS Chicago. "Their roots grow deep, they enrich the earth and they become tall and plentiful, a canopy that shelters us and makes our world stronger and more vibrant."

The grove will be dedicated at a festive, community-wide celebration that, in homage to Chicago HIAS's origins in a humble storefront on Maxwell Street, will transform Lincolnwood's Channel Runne Park in Lincolnwood into a bustling, open-air market. Vendors will hand out kosher hotdogs, knishes, pickles, and other traditional street foods to the music of Tanya Melamed and her band. A popular local singer, Melamed was resettled from the Former Soviet Union by HIAS Chicago. A traditional storyteller will be on hand to entertain children and families with tales from Jewish Chicago.

An important part of its 100th Anniversary, the agency is launching a three-year campaign to raise $2 million for the HIAS Chicago Endowment Foundation to ensure HIAS will be able to continue its vital work. HIAS Chicago is inviting the community to sponsor trees in honor of their own families' immigration to America. All commitments are considered gifts to the Jewish Federation's Centennial Campaign.

"One by one, family by family, HIAS Chicago has meant freedom for generations of immigrants," said Kriezelman, whose own grandparents were brought over to Chicago from Eastern Europe by HIAS. "As HIAS was there for my family, it is very important to ensure that HIAS Chicago stays strong for those who need us now and into the future.

HIAS Chicago also is asking the community to help make their own family's immigration story a chapter in its history. HIAS Chicago is collecting these core narratives of this community's history to pass on to future generations and ensure they won't be lost.  Tell your own family's story by logging onto HIAS' website at www.hiaschicago.org and click "Share Your Story" 

Among the many will be the story of Igor Boguslavsky, co-chair of HIAS Chicago's 100th Anniversary celebration along with Harvey Barnett, a past JUF Chairman of the Board and leader of Operation Exodus, a major effort of JUF and its affiliated agencies to resettle more than 36,000 refugees from the Former Soviet Union.

With HIAS's help, Boguslavsky and his family came to the United States as refugees in the 1970s. As a young engineer, he started Belmont Trading Company that recycles old computers and cell phones, in his apartment closet on Belmont Avenue in Chicago. Now an international corporation headquartered in Northbrook, where most of his employees are immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.

"When my children and grandchildren go to visit the Freedom Grove, our journey to America will be remembered," Boguslavsky said. 

The history of HIAS Chicago is the history of Jewish Chicago. From its beginning at the start of the 20th century as a loose confederation of immigration associations, HIAS has been a safety net for Jews and others fleeing oppression and persecution from all corners of the world- helping them find shelter, food, and whatever else they needed to create new lives in a new country.

"HIAS has played an enormous role in the life of this community," Cutler said. "Nearly every family has been touched by HIAS in some way."

And that role still continues. 

HIAS Chicago works in close partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services to ensure a comprehensive range of resettlement services. HIAS Chicago is the immigration agency of our community. It helps reunite refugees and immigrants with family members through the immigration process,  provides legal assistance, offers a wide range of services to assist immigrants become citizens, and through the generosity of special donors, offers annual scholarships to help bright and promising refugees and immigrants attend college or graduate school. Its volunteer-based citizenship program has become a model for similar programs around the country, and the U.S. government frequently turns to HIAS Chicago for its long expertise in providing quality and cost effective immigration services.  Building the future leaders of tomorrow is an important value of the agency. Today, 40 percent of its board is made of up first generation immigrants helped by HIAS Chicago.

"HIAS Chicago has made a huge difference in my life," said Irena Persky, the incoming Chicago HIAS board president, who immigrated from then-Soviet Union as a young teen.

Mayor Gerald Turry said he is honored HIAS Chicago chose to partner with Lincolnwood, which is also celebrating its Centennial this year. With residents from more than 43 nationalities, as well as a large Jewish population, Lincolnwood is a community of immigrants, Turry said. Turry's own family fled Russia in the early 1900s and was helped by HIAS.

"HIAS Chicago is very much needed," he said. 

To find out how you can plant a tree in honor of your family and/or donate to the HIAS Chicago Endowment Foundation, contact Suzanne Franklin at suzannefranklin@jcfs.org or call (312) 357-4666.

The HIAS Chicago 100th Anniversary celebration begins at 5:30 p.m. on June 21st  and is free to the community. To make a reservation, visit www.hiaschicago.org. Channel Runne Park is located along the North Shore Channel in Lincolnwood. The event will be at McCormick and Pratt. To share your family's immigration story with HIAS, visit http://hiaschicago.org/share-your-story.

HIAS Chicago works proudly with Jewish Child and Family Services to serve our community, and is supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation.

Lisa Pevtzow is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area.

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