Sunday, September 5, 2010

Island of Hope, Island of Tears

Statue of Liberty -Sheva Apelbaum  
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame,
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
by Emma Lazarus, New York City, 1883

When my mom asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday, I gave my answer without any hesitation. I said “Ellis Island!” I had wanted to go there ever since I learned about it in my 5th grade Social Studies class. We spent about a month learning about the U.S immigrants.  I read Letters from Rifka and we even reenacted how it would have been like to have made the trip from Europe to America on the bottom of a ship in the steerage section.

I got my wish and to Ellis Island we went. My mom told me that we may also be able to see the Statue of Liberty which was a present given by the French to the Americans in an effort to promote French reputation.  So in a way,  it is a huge Trojan horse (in a shape of a woman) for spreading French cultural ideas and influence. 

On the day of the trip at the crack of dawn, we got out of the house and hopped on the train to New York City.  Once in Penn Station, we caught the subway heading uptown (to the financial center of Manhattan).  We got out of the subway right next to where the world trade center once stood.  Before catching the ferry to Ellis Island, we took a tour of St. Paul's Chapel church.  This is the oldest public building in continuous use in Manhattan (it has been around since 1766).  

Tomb Stone Rachel Colvin1784-Sheva ApelbaumTombstone dated 1784 from the cemetery in the St. Paul's Chapel church. It has the following poem on it: “Sleep on thou lovely babes,  And take they peaceful rest, The Lord hath called you hence Because he thought be it Best”

Then it was finally off to Ellis Island! It turned out that we had to wait on various lines for some time before we could board the boat.  The wait wasn't so bad. We were entertained by various street performers including a  Jamaican steel drum player who played “Hava Nagila,” a contortionist who squeezed himself into a small 24” box, and a cabaret singer who sang songs by Frank Sinatra, although he didn’t sound anything like him.

New York City Skyline-Sheva ApelbaumView of the New York skyline from the ferry to Ellis Island 

After about an hour and a half, we had our tickets and were finally on the ferry. Our first stop: Lady Liberty.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to get off to see liberty island, (the tickets to visit her crown were also completely sold out), so we just stayed on the boat and admired the statue from a short distance.

Ferry Ticket to Ellis Island-Sheva Apelbaum

From the little research I have done, I discovered that originally, the statue was not entirely welcomed in the US at first.  Many NY Times Oposition to the Statue of Liberty people objected to it because they felt that it was extravagant.  The New York Times even stated that "no true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances."  It was only after the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer started a large campaign (promising to print the name of each donor in his newspaper) that  the public warmed up to such dramatic donation stories as "A young girl alone in the world" donated "60 cents, the result of self denial." and the opposition to the the statue disappeared and the money started flowing in.

Statue of Liberty Under Construction-1 -Sheva Apelbaum The Statue of Liberty, under construction in Paris in 1884, six months before it was completed. After completion, it was taken apart, loaded into more than 200 wooden boxes, and shipped to New York where it arrived in June of 1885.

The next stop was Ellis Island and there we disembarked. Built in 1900 by Edward Lippincott Tilton and William Alciphron Boring, its purpose was to regulate the quality and quantity of the  immigrants entering the US.

As soon as we entered the old building, I could not stop imagining that I was an actual immigrant, traveling from my home country to America. I thought of how scary it must have been to have made such a long journey across the ocean, and how worried people must have been to start a new life in a new and strange place with no money or language skills or a place to stay.

Ellis IslandEllis Island in 1880

We walked around the whole museum. There was a station where you could look up the names of your family members to see if there was a record of them coming through Ellis Island.  We passed a display filled with many old suitcases and bags and then went on to the huge hall where hundreds of thousands of immigrants sat and waited to be processed  for entry into the country.

Immigrant Passport-Sheva ApelbaumTravel documents of Ester Pirrotto, an Italian emigrant who arrived to Ellis Island in 1921

Each immigrant had to pass through Ellis Island, they were checked to make sure that they weren’t ill, didn’t have a criminal record, and weren’t anarchist or monarchists.  Some immigrants (2 out of 100) who were found to be sick (mostly eye diseases or Tuberculosis) were put on ships and sent back home to the country they came from. This earned Ellis Island the name “Island of Hope, Island of Tears.”

I was deeply moved by all of the things that I had seen and learned. It was amazing how many people  where willing to leave their home behind and come to America and what hardship and misery they were willing to endure in order to get here,  but  maybe that is the exact reason why Ellis Island is still there and has been turned into a museum. 


  1. Dear Sheva friend! I can see you had a most lovely and wonderful day with your sister and parents! You wrote a very very good and informative post about the event and the place - I admire you and am proud of you!! Considering your young age your eagerness is adorable, as well as your ability to research, and your writing talent! It is always a pleasure to read your blog!
    I am glad your Birthday was happy and I wish you another year with joy, pleasure and success!!
    Love and hugs! Yael.

  2. Thank you very much, Yael. I love each and every one of your comments! It was a great trip to go on and we had a lot of fun.