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Since coming here a year ago, I have delighted in learning about the unique history of Dallas’ Jews, so many of whom immigrated more than a century ago through a route quite different from my own ancestors, who entered America through Ellis Island.

In fact, it was 113 years ago this very week that the first Jewish immigrants arrived on the shores of Galveston, Texas. They disembarked the S.S. Cassel, the first ship of many that ferried thousands of Jews from Russia to this New World as part of the so-called “Galveston Plan.”

Departing the arrival facilities, the 87 new immigrants were greeted by Galveston Mayor Henry Landes. A representative of the group, speaking in Yiddish, responded to their welcome, saying, “We are overwhelmed that a ruler of the city should greet us…although we have heard of the land of great freedom, it is very hard to realize that we are permitted to grasp the hand of the great man. We will do all we can do to make good citizens.”

There is something almost magical to be viewed in the appreciation this representative expressed on behalf of his fellow immigrants. For those of us who are second, third, fourth, even fifth-generation Americans, it may be difficult to comprehend the amazement felt by Mayor Landes’ welcome of the new Jewish arrivals. But this was an experience previously unheard of in the Jewish ethos, to be so welcomed into a new land. The professed dedication to becoming “good citizens” is inspiring.

A century later, the profundity of what these initial immigrants built is striking. This representative’s dream has come true. We live in a world-class city with a top-rate Jewish community. We live here not as tolerated guests but as equal citizens, able to ascend the highest reaches of power, influence and decision-making. The freedom that this land affords us has enabled us to become very good citizens of this great city, state and country. The promises of freedom and liberty have allowed the Jewish people to flourish in ways never before imagined.

As we celebrate our independence this weekend, let us reflect on the wonderful gift that we have been given in this great nation that we call our home. Let us dedicate ourselves this Shabbat toward ensuring that, a century from now, our descendants will be inspired by the multitude of ways that we manifest our freedom to further better our people and our nation.

For more information about the history of Galveston’s earliest Jewish immigrants, and for the source information mentioned above, visit Ha’aretz.
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