Exhibition | Out of Egypt
Pessah Family Immigration
BY AARON HAHN TAPPER
Pessah Family Immigration
Dated between 1968 and 1972, these documents chronicle the resettlement efforts of a large Karaite family, the Pessahs. More specifically, the females of the family — Rachel Pessah, her six children including Fortunee Pessah Lichaa and her child, Rachel’s grandchild, Rachel’s sister Sarina, and Sarina’s five children — were trying to immigrate to the United States while simultaneously securing the release of several male members of their family from prison. This process included letters between Jewish Family Services in three locations (New York City, Rochester, and San Francisco), HIAS, a resettlement agency then called the “Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society,” and the President of Egypt, Gamal Abd Al-Nasser. They were also trying to get immigration papers for the imprisoned men at the same time.
The correspondences reveal some of the many challenges this family faced in this monumental effort. The initial two documents include statements from Sarina Pessah testifying to the dire situation in which the family finds itself. She states that her husband encouraged her to “try to save at least the rest of the family from danger,” and that with male members of her family in prison, “Life for me and my family has been extremely difficult: no means of support and constant fear for our lives.”
The documents then unveil the circuitous process of locating a sponsor for the Pessahs. For instance, the family initially wants to resettle in Rochester, New York with the support of Fortunee Lichaa’s brother-in-law Alan (Abdul) Lichaa, but because of the large size of the group (14-15 people) and the potential in difficulty finding employment (the women do not have professions outside the home and the children are ineligible to work), they may not receive their first choice destination, explains a HIAS official. Later, Fortunee Lichaa, then located in Rome, “begs” to be resettled with the Moussa family in San Francisco and asks that the family be able to remain together.
Alongside the immigration efforts, the documents chronicle the attempt of the Pessahs and HIAS to free the Pessah men from imprisonment in Egypt.
Finally, the documents note that the extended Pessah family has established themselves in San Francisco. See here for a January 17, 1969 article about the arrival of the family published in the Jewish Federation supplement to the local San Francisco Bay Area Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California.
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