That was the dream of so many poor Jews in the
old Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th
century. America was hope, a chance for a better
life, a way out of poverty and squalor, a bastion of
Enthusiasm for the new “promised land” spread
from heart to heart. Thousands of hopeful souls
uprooted themselves from the old world and set sail
for the new.
Among them, in 1908, were Bohor Yehuda Angel
and his eldest son Moshe. They left the Island of
Rhodes and made the long, arduous trip to Seattle,
Washington, where a small community of Rhodes
Jews had already settled.
Bohor Yehuda was a sturdy, pious man. He left his
six young children in Rhodes with his wife Bulissa
Esther. He and Moshe planned to work hard, earn
money, and bring the entire family to Seattle as soon
Bohor Yehuda opened a shoe-shine stand in
downtown Seattle. Moshe worked at various odd
jobs. They lived simply and with great self-sacrifice.
They regularly sent money to their family in Rhodes
to sustain them until they could save enough to
bring them all to Seattle. It took them three years
of toil and scrimping before they finally raised the
Bulissa Esther received the news with ineffable joy.
The past three years had been difficult. Separation
from a husband so many thousands of miles away in
a strange land was not easy. Caring for six children
in the absence of their father was a huge challenge.
Although she was blessed with great wisdom and
patience, Bulissa Esther was taxed to the limit of
her abilities. At last, she could now arrange to travel
with her children to America and the family could
once again be united.
Bulissa Esther and her six children set sail in the
summer of 1911. They traveled steerage, but no one
complained. They were on their way to the freedom,
happiness, and the promise of America. They were
on their way to family reunion.
When they arrived in New York harbor, they looked
forward to stepping onto American soil. They would
soon take a train cross-country to Seattle. All would
As they exited the ship, all passengers were brought
to the immigration office. American officials checked
their names, their places of origin, their ultimate
destinations in the United States. They asked many
questions, although most of the immigrants did not
know English and could not understand what was
being asked of them. Somehow, though, most of
the passengers answered well enough and received
papers admitting them into the United States.
When the turn of Bulissa Esther and her six children
came, she stood before the examining officers with
trembling anticipation. She told the officials that
they were on their way to Seattle to reunite with her
husband and eldest son.
One of the officials, following standard immigration
procedures, checked the family members to
determine if they had any obvious diseases or health
issues that would prohibit their entry into the
United States. Bulissa Esther and five of her children
were deemed to be healthy. Her nine-year-old son,
Joseph, was found to have a scalp disease, tinias.
This was not a serious health problem in itself; but
the immigration official ruled that Joseph could not
be admitted into the country due to his disease.
Bulissa Esther’s heart jumped a beat when she was
made to understand that Joseph could not enter the
United States. She broke down crying. She pleaded
with the officials. He is just a little boy, we will get
medicine for his tinias, please let him in, what am I
to do if you do not admit him? We’ve waited three
years for my husband and son to raise the funds to
bring us here! We can’t go back to Rhodes again!
No, said the official, you don’t have to go back to
Rhodes. You and five of your children can continue
your trip to Seattle. But Joseph can’t be admitted
into the United States.
Please, have mercy on a mother and her children.
Have mercy on a nine year old boy. How can we
separate him from the rest of us? How will he go
back to Rhodes alone? Who will care for him there?
That is not our problem, said the official. Joseph
cannot be admitted. You need to decide what to do
The promised land. A land with laws, but without
mercy. A land that would turn a young boy away,
that would break the hearts of a good, honest family.
Bulissa Esther was beside herself with grief. She
could not bring her family back to Rhodes. But
neither could she abandon little Joseph.
As it happened, a Jewish man from Rhodes, who
had been on the same ship as Bulissa Esther, was also
denied entry into the United States due to a health
problem. He had no choice but to return to Rhodes.
When he heard Bulissa Esther crying, he came over
to her and learned of the problem with Joseph. He
volunteered to bring Joseph back to Rhodes with
him, to settle him in with a family of relatives until
such time as Bohor Yehuda could raise enough
money to pay passage for Joseph to join the family
Bulissa Esther had no other realistic option. She
thanked the man profusely for agreeing to look
after Joseph. So she kissed her beloved son and said
goodbye. All the brothers and sisters hugged Joseph
and promised that they would see him again soon.
Bulissa Esther and five of her children traveled on
to Seattle, reunited with Bohor Yehuda and Moshe,
and gradually adapted to their new lives in America.
Joseph was brought to the home of relatives in
Rhodes. Bulissa Esther prayed for the day when
Joseph could be brought together with the rest of
the family in Seattle.
That day never came.
Bohor Yehuda could scarcely earn enough to
support his large family in Seattle, let alone to save
money to buy passage for Joseph. Meanwhile, world
events were impacting on life in Rhodes, making
Joseph’s travel to the United States increasingly
War broke out between Italy and Turkey, with
Italian forces occupying the Island of Rhodes in
May 1912. After nearly four centuries of Turkish
dominion, Rhodes was now under Italian control.
Italy was officially granted Rhodes in July 1923 under
the Treaty of Lausanne. The Jews of Rhodes, along
with the other residents of the island, soon began to
speak Italian, to think Italian, to be Italian subjects.
Economic life in Rhodes blossomed. Little Joseph
grew up at a time of growing optimism among the
Jews of Rhodes.
He couldn’t easily travel to America during the
Turco-Italian War years. Then World War I broke
out in July 1914, making travel across the Atlantic
Ocean dangerous if not impossible. By the time the
war ended in November 1918, Joseph was a young
man, already comfortable in his life in Italian-ruled
Rhodes. In due course, he was married to a lovely wife,
Sinyorou; and they went on to have four children—
two boys and two girls. Life was moving along well.
They could see no reason to move to America; and
in any case, American quota laws of 1921 and 1924
dramatically limited the number of immigrants
eligible to enter the United States. Joseph had been
turned away from America once; he had no desire to
face American immigration officials a second time.
But conditions in Rhodes were to change radically.
In June 1936, Italy aligned itself with Nazi Germany.
Jews living in Italian territories—like Jews living in
Germany—became victims of a horrific policy of anti-
The Jews of Rhodes were thunderstruck
by the dramatic undermining of their lives and
their livelihoods. The Rabbinical College of Rhodes
was forced to close. Jews in Rhodes were required
to keep their stores open on the Jewish Sabbath
and festivals. In September 1938, anti-Jewish laws
went into effect in Rhodes that prohibited kosher
slaughter of animals. Jews were no longer allowed
to buy property, employ non-Jewish servants, send
their children to government schools. Non-Jews
were forbidden from patronizing Jewish doctors or
pharmacists. Jews who had settled in Rhodes after
January 1919 were expelled from the Island. (They
were the fortunate ones!)
For a short period in the early 1940s, there was
a slight easing of the anti-Jewish measures. Yet,
conditions were dire. Aside from dealing with their
loss of civil status and human dignity, they had to
deal with the ongoing hardships of living in a war
zone. British planes dropped bombs on Rhodes in
their effort to defeat the Axis powers, and dozens of
Jews were among those killed in these attacks.
When Mussolini was removed from power in July
1943, the Jews of Rhodes thought their troubles
were over. But contrary to their expectations, the
Germans occupied Rhodes. The situation of the
Jews worsened precipitously. In July 1944, the Jews
of Rhodes had all their valuables confiscated by
the Germans. They were then crowded into three
small freight ships. Of the nearly 1,700 Rhodes Jews
deported by the Nazis, only 151 survived. Almost
all the Jews of Rhodes were viciously murdered in
Among those who suffered this cruel and inhuman
death were the entire family of Joseph Angel.
Little did the American immigration official realize
in 1911, that by turning away a little boy with a scalp
infection, he was condemning that boy and family
to a calamitous destruction. That official no doubt
slept peacefully the night he sent Joseph back to
Rhodes, separating the young son from his mother
and siblings. The official was following the rules.
If that official was still alive in July 1944, he probably
slept the sleep of the innocent, not realizing that
his actions led to the death of an entire family. His
dreams were not haunted by nightmares of the
ghosts of Joseph’s family.