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
Lazarus began to be more interested in her Jewish ancestry after reading the George Eliot novel Daniel Deronda, and as she heard of the Russian pogroms that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. As a result of this anti-Semitic violence, thousands of destitute Ashkenazi Jews emigrated from the Russian Pale of Settlement to New York, leading Lazarus to write articles on the subject as well as the book Songs of a Semite (1882). Lazarus began at this point to advocate on behalf of indigent Jewish refugees and helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute in New York to provide vocational training to help destitute Jewish immigrants become self-supporting.
She traveled twice to Europe, first in 1883 and again from 1885 to 1887. She returned to New York City seriously ill after her second trip and died two months later on November 19, 1887, most likely from Hodgkin's lymphoma.
She is an important forerunner of the Zionist movement. She argued for the creation of a Jewish homeland thirteen years before Theodor Herzl began to use the term Zionism. Lazarus is buried in Beth-Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn.
^Young, Bette Roth (1997). Emma Lazarus in Her World: Life and Letters. The Jewish Publication Society. ISBN0-8276-0618-4. p. 3: Auction event named as " Lowell says poem gave the statue "a raison e'tre;" fell into obscurity; not mentioned at statue opening; Georgina Schuyler's campaign for the plaque