To grasp the Jewish experience in America, you have to start where the journey began: from the shores of nineteenth-century Europe to Ellis Island.
On a guided tour of Ellis Island, you will learn about the life the Jewish immigrants led before they left the "shtetls" of Europe. They dreamed of the "Goldina Medina," but often ended up in the teeming slums of the Lower East Side. Their story is one of pain, patience, and heroism. It is the story of the American immigrant.
Ellis Island is accessible only through ferry from Manhattan or New Jersey.
Guests to the island must purchase ferry tickets, wait on line, go through security, and ride the ferry. This process can take up to three hours.
The time can be significantly cut down by taking one of the earliest boats in the morning, or by visiting the island in an off-peak period.
Museums Within a Museum and a Theater at Ellis Island
Through America's Gate
When the immigrants arrived on Ellis Island they went through a thorough inspection process depicted in Through America's Gate.
Ellis Island visitors today can see the inspection desks where the immigrants were asked 29 questions. The questions were based on information that the inspector took from the ships' manifests that are also on display. Each manifest contained basic information such as the immigrant's name, age, country, city of origin, and nationality.
Doctors who conducted health inspections had six seconds to examine the immigrant and to determine if there were any health issues. Pictures show doctors using a buttonhook to check for trachoma, a highly contagious eye disease.
If an immigrant was to be sent back, he was entitled to a hearing in the hearing room that has been restored in this section.
Peak Immigration Years (1892-1924)
Where did the immigrants come from? In Peak Immigration Years, guests can see actual footage of the tiny villages where immigrants originated, along with films of the immigrants riding open wagons to the train that would bring them to the port. One can plainly see that the immigrants had no idea what to expect in the big cities they were traveling to.
Cartoons and articles from U.S. papers during this period show the tremendous backlash in the U.S. to the new influx of immigrants, eventually leading to anti-immigration laws.
The exhibit shows how the new arrivals made a living. They expected to find the streets paved with gold, but as the exhibit shows, that's not what they found.
The Peopling of America
Three-dimensional graphs in The Peopling of America exhibit allow visitors to visually see where immigrants came from and when they came.
For example, in the year 2000, the U.S. had 7.8 million legal residents who were born in Mexico. This can be compared to two million East Europeans that came to this country during the entire peak year period of 1884-1924.
A huge electrical map can show visitors state by state where the residents of a particular state are from.
An artificial tree has foreign words that have "grown" into the English language, such as "chutzpah," which means audacity in Yiddish, or "mazal tov," which is good luck in Hebrew.
The Ellis Island Theater
Island of Hope, Island of Tears is an award-winning documentary about the hopes and struggles of immigrants to come to the United States.
Excellent live footage shows the immigrants boarding the huge steamships and how they lived a wretched existence coming across the ocean. The film has interviews with immigrants who discuss how they felt onboard, and their emotions as they came in view of Lady Liberty.
Hearing-impaired guests can read subtitles across the screen. The film runs 30 minutes and follows a 15-minute introduction from a park ranger.
To inquire about a private or group tour call (718) 339-2302 or email us at