On the 22nd of July in 1849, Emma Lazarus was born in New York City. She was the forth of seven children of Moses Lazarus and his wife Esther Nathan. Her family were descendants of Sephardic Jews from Portugal, who had been successful in the business of refining sugar.
From a very early age, Emma studied literature and became fluent in various languages, including German, French and Italian. She became well known as a poet, and later as a novelist and playwright. In the early 1880's, Emma began to advocate for the poor Jews who were arriving in New York. She was one of the founders who helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute, which gave those Jews arriving from Europe the chance to learn a trade and become able to support themselves. She was also well known as calling for the creation of a Jewish homeland years before others.
Emma was truly a remarkable woman in so many different ways, however it is for one poem that she most well known. In 1883, she wrote, The New Colossus. She wrote this piece and then donated it to an auction, that was raising money to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.
After writing the poem, she traveled twice to Europe, and on her return from the second trip she fell ill and 2 months later, on 19 November 1887, she died. She was buried at Beth Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Her early death not only took away a great Jewish woman, but also deprived her of the chance to see her poem be placed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. It was placed there in 1903. That poem (below) has been seen by millions of people as they arrived looking to start a new life. Her work has given so many hope, when they had nothing else.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Emma Lazarus , 1883
Tomorrow, 4 July 2013, the Statue of Liberty is scheduled to reopen following repairs for the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Her incredible words of hope will once again be an inspiration to all. May we never forget all that those new immigrants risked as they searched for a new home.