They came from Russia, Italy, France, Sweden and Germany with all their worldly possessions, hoping to enter “The Goldena Medina” — America. These immigrants were Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (LYA) middle school students, participating in a simulated Ellis Island immigration experience in January, a culmination of a unit on immigration in America in the early 20th century. Students studied immigration laws, mass migration patterns to America and processing on Ellis Island. Students created an identity for themselves, packed a period-like suitcase and came to school in costume. “It was fun acting like immigrants,” said Chiam Shotenstein of England (8th grader Menashe Fenster.) “I got to talk in a British accent all day!”
Upon their arrival at Ellis Island, the “immigrants” were met by inspectors — middle school staff. The immigrants were expected to stand in long lines while awaiting a medical exam, answering registry questions and taking an IQ test.
It was then onto work at a sweatshop shirtwaist factory.
The work was difficult, the pay low and the conditions were less than ideal. After pay day, when immigrants were expecting to receive their $5 for the week, some immigrants opened their envelopes and noticed they were docked pay. Immigrant Emelia Abott of England (6th grader, Sophia Brackman) became very vocal and organized a strike and walked out of the sweatshop with some of her fellow workers.
“At LYA, we don’t just learn history, we live it,” explained Middle School Jewish History teacher and simulation coordinator, Rochel Leah Kosofsky. “My students have a better understanding of the immigration process after experiencing it for themselves.”
CAP: Naomi Olkin, Janet Anderson, Chumi Sahler, Esther Muhlmann and Shterna Kulek waiting to be processed at Ellis Island.