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Israel's Ellis Island

Israel's Ellis Island

The Challenges of Aliya and Acclimation at Sha'ar ha-Aliya

Sunday, April 3, 2011 2:00 pm

Sha'ar ha-Aliya was Israel’s central immigrant processing camp in the period of mass immigration that followed the establishment of the State of Israel. From 1949 to 1957, nearly 400,000 people went through Sha'ar ha-Aliya’s gates. Yet despite its pivotal role, discussion of this camp had been, at best, relegated to a few pages in books on other subjects.

Sha'ar ha-Aliya’s story is revealing of central defining themes that Israel and its peoples faced following 1948. These issues—of migration, acclimation, power, health, disease, inclusion and exclusion—embody the challenges that accompanied the transition from the idea of a Jewish state into the reality. Dr. Rhona D. Seidelman explored these and other themes through the colorful and little-known history of Israel’s Ellis Island.

Dr. Rhona D. Seidelman is the Schusterman Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she teaches Israeli history and the history of medicine. Born and raised in Canada, she is a graduate of the Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Her research focuses on quarantine, disease, and immigration in Israeli history, and she uses these issues as an entry into discussion on belonging, exclusion, and power. Her dissertation (Ben-Gurion University, 2009) is the first comprehensive scholarly work written on the history of Sha'ar ha-Aliya.

This was the 2011 Norman Asher Memorial Lecture. This annual program reflects the educational vision of the late Norman Asher, a biblical and Talmudic scholar, and a leading Chicago attorney and philanthropist.

Image courtesy of Robert Capa, Copyright International Center of Photography. Israel, Haifa. The arrival of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Turkey, and Tunisia, 1949.