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Ellis Island

Lawrence Bush
December 31, 2017

On this date in 1892, a federal immigration depot opened at Ellis Island in New York harbor, replacing the Castle Garden immigration center, which had processed eight million immigrants during the previous thirty-five years. In Ellis Island’s busiest year, 1907, more than a million immigrants were processed. It became known as the “Island of Tears,” but only two percent of some twelve million immigrants were ever turned away by immigration authorities. Between 1881 and the intense narrowing of immigration law in 1921, close to two million Jews emigrated from Europe to America — the great majority through the portal at Ellis Island. During the colonial period, the island was known as Little Oyster Island and various other names until it was bought by Samuel Ellis, a colonial merchant, around the time of the American Revolution.

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking to the Daughters of the American Revolution

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.