Washington (AFP) – HIAS, the Jewish non-profit singled out by the Pittsburgh synagogue assailant, is one of a number of religious-affiliated groups in the United States that provide help to refugees.
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was founded in New York in 1881 to help Jews fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe.
HIAS, whose slogan is “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee,” has since expanded its efforts to provide help to refugees around the world escaping persecution.
HIAS was one of the targets of the anti-Semitic ravings by Robert Bowers, 46, arrested for Saturday’s attack on the Tree of Life synagogue which killed 11 people.
Bowers made a reference to HIAS on the social media site Gab shortly before he opened fire on worshippers at the Pittsburgh temple.
“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in,” said the post on Gab.
The post is reflective of far right-wing propaganda that seeks to link Jewish groups to a caravan of Central American migrants heading to the United States.
According to the HIAS website, the group was founded by members of New York’s Russian Jewish population to provide “meals, transportation and jobs” to new arrivals.
HIAS opened a shelter and a kosher soup kitchen and helped immigrants through the maze of bureaucracy they encountered upon their arrival at Ellis Island.
HIAS has provided assistance during other waves of Jewish emigration, from Europe during World War I, for example, and from the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s.
– Helped family of Google co-founder –
Among those helped by HIAS is the family of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose family came to the United States from the Soviet Union when he was six years old.
“I would have never had the kinds of opportunities I’ve had here in the Soviet Union, or even in Russia today,” Brin told The New York Times in a 2009 interview after making a $1 million donation to HIAS.
“I would like to see anyone be able to achieve their dreams, and that’s what this organization does,” Brin said.
HIAS, which is now based in Silver Spring, Maryland, expanded its resettlement work to non-Jewish refugees beginning in the early 2000s.
“Because we have helped more than 4.5 million people escape persecution, HIAS is uniquely qualified to address the modern refugee situation, which has mushroomed into a global humanitarian crisis,” the group says on its website.
“And because the right to refuge is a universal human right, HIAS is now dedicated to providing welcome, safety, and freedom to refugees of all faiths and ethnicities from all over the world,” it says.
According to HIAS, it has been involved in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Ethiopia, Haiti, Hungary, Iran, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Vietnam and the former Soviet Union.
HIAS is one of nine national refugee resettlement agencies which partner with the US government.
Other faith-based groups involved in the effort are the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Episcopal Migration Ministries, Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.