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The Land of Opportunity

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America. The word hovers in the air as the passengers crowd around the ship’s deck, all straining to get a glimpse of the shoreline.

“Else! Look!” Father gasps. “There it is. Isn’t it beautiful?”
The statue of a lady holding a torch up to the sky overshadows the boat. Behind her, is America. The ports are swarming with people and boats. My eyes widen, I’ve never seen so many people. Not even in my home country, Russia. Our boat turns and slowly approaches an island that has a red brick building sitting on it.
“The Isle of Hope.” Father mutters in awe.
A wave of fear washes over me and my knuckles turn white as I grip my satchel. The red building looms over us as Father and I are caught in a stream of people. Once inside, the building is bigger and sounds bounce off the walls. Father has had to sell his pocket watch for money for the voyage and there are no windows to tell the time by. We wait for hours it seems, standing in line.
Slowly the line moves and more people in white coats appear. They’re examining the people in line and writing with chalk on their backs. Next to me, my Father tenses and mutters a prayer. I know who they are. I’ve heard stories of immigrants being sent back home because of something wrong with them. In front of us, a small boy is marked with an X and his mother shrieks.
The people in white coats move on, not paying any attention as the older sister quickly takes the boy’s coat off and turns it inside out. My stomach turns and I try not to squirm as Father is examined. He is tall and broad, and has dark brown hair that has gone scruffy and grey over the past weeks, making him look older then 39. His eyes-green-are narrowed and he holds very still. They take longer with me and I feel his anxious eyes. I’m small for my age, 11. I have black hair and blue eyes, which I’m told I get from my mother. Finally they are done and we move on, free of chalk, Father breaths in relief.
After another long wait in line we arrive at a desk, and Father produces our passports. They are studied and our names: Jacob and Elise Matz are written down. We are then given our passports back and are filed out. The sky and fresh air reappear as we’re steered out of the building.
Father’s giant hand encloses my small one. “We made it, Else!”
I nod but don’t loosen the grip on my satchel. He leads me away from the building and into the streets of America. It is nothing like what I expected. It’s crowded and dirty. There are strange smells, languages, and faces. People push and shove and I cling tightly to Father. If I get lost, I may never be found here.
Something hits the side of my face as a voice yells.
“GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM!”
Father roars in response but the person disappears into the crowd laughing.
“Are you alright Else?”
Wiping rotten fruit from my eye I nod and try not to cry. Why had they done that? In Russia people weren’t like that. I wished, for not the first time that we hadn’t left. Even though I’d heard the stories of other Jews being killed and tortured for their beliefs, more than once, Father had said how lucky we were to have escaped. Father and I walk through more streets, the next one dirtier then the last. Finally we stop outside of a large white house and go in. It’s loud and smells like a barn.
A young man approaches us.
“Can I help you?”
“Do you have any room?” Father asks, his voice tired.
“One just opened on the second floor. Can you afford it?”
Father nods and the man lead us up a flight of steps. He is young, has a thin face and blinding red hair. The hall is crawling with dirty children, screaming babies and shouting adults. This is where we’re staying? The man opens the third door on the left, revealing a room smaller than a closet in Russia. There are two cots arranged on the floor and a small window that shows the street below. The walls are scarred and the glass of the window is so dirty you can barely see through it.
“The bathroom is down the hall, you will share with two others.” Father hands a roll of bills over.
“Thank you.”
The man accepts the money. “Where are you two from?”
“Russia.”
“Oh. I’m 27 and from Ireland. We just had a potatoes famine and the country is starving. I was lucky to be able to leave. My name’s Jimmy. Perhaps I’ll be seeing you two around.”
He shakes Father’s hand and gives me a wink before disappearing back downstairs. I am so tired. Unwrapping my blanket from my satchel I lay down on the floor. Every part of me aches. Father kisses me on the head and sitting, leans against the wall. His hat pulled low over his eyes. He is asleep instantly. I close my eyes but the noises from the street make my ears buzz and my mouth tastes like copper. This was where we were to live until for who knew how long. I didn’t understand. Father told me this was to be a land of opportunity. A land where we’d have a better life. But so far, all I could wonder was if we’d gotten off the boat at the wrong port.



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