A New "New Colossus"

As part of AJHS new online curriculum, the Emma Lazarus Project, we are working with K-12 classes throughout the city, asking them a simple question, if the poem of the Statue of Liberty were written today, what would it say?

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” This iconic line has become synonymous with the Statue of Liberty, immigration, and American identity. Some assume the author must have been an immigrant, others guess the French sent the poem with the statue. 

The truth is, “The New Colossus” was written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, Jewish poet and activist. While her family had been in this country for generations, she felt a deep sense of responsibility to advocate on behalf of newly arriving refugees and shine a light on the challenges they faced. Emma Lazarus used her platform, the written word, to raise awareness and inspire others to act.

Though written over 130 years ago, Emma’s words remain etched in American memory. However, we continue to wrestle with and question, in this day and age, what does this poem mean to us as Americans? Does Emma Lazarus’ message still ring true? 

The American Jewish Historical Society is asking students and public to weigh in, asking:

 “If you could write a poem for the Statue of Liberty today, what would you say?”

This spring, AJHS has been piloting a new curriculum with classrooms across New York City. Most recently, we’ve been working with students at Hunter Elementary, taking them behind the scenes into our archives and on a walking tour of Union Square, empowering the students to piece together the story of Emma Lazarus’ life, the world she lived in, and the meaning behind “The New Colossus”. These experiences laid the groundwork for the students to write their own poems about what Lady Liberty’s golden torch represents to them today. 

The results so far have been inspiring!

The curriculum, developed in partnership with Reimagining Migration and Facing History and Ourselves, will become available online this summer. Throughout the year we will be collecting submissions from K-12 students from across the country and the public, with the winners being announced in Spring of 2020. 

 “If you could write a poem for the Statue of Liberty today, what would you say?”

All entries will have a chance to become a part of the American Jewish Historical Society’s own history. For more information on the Emma Lazarus Project, click here

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