My mother came to this country in September, 1913 -- I was 11 months old! There were six children all together with her, in steerage. According to the stories I heard about the crossing, it took several weeks and most of the immigrants were seasick. My father and two oldest brothers (his sons) had come over in 1912, to pave the way for the rest of us. But the way was not 'paved with gold!' The slogan in those years apparently was that the 'streets of America were paved in gold.'
My two oldest sisters went to school in Russia. Being Jewish, they related, they sat in the very front seats and when the Greek Orthodox priest would come into the classroom to give religious instruction, he would make the sign of the cross over the children sitting at the head of the rows--which meant that the Jewish children would be so blessed. They considered the seating arrangement a punishment for their being Jewish!
My father had owned a grist mill in the small town in which we lived. It seems that one of the workers, a Russian, had been killed in the mill, and my father was forced to flee the country. I don't know any details, except that the fact that he was Jewish and the worker a Christian, would have made it dangerous for him to stay. The two oldest children in the family were in their late teens, which meant that they could go with him and work in the new world to help raise money to bring the rest of us over.
I recall hearing stories about pogroms against the Jews. The one I remember most vividly is as follows:
It was a Friday evening. The dining table was all set in preparation for the Friday night pre-Sabbath dinner. Silver candlesticks graced the center of the table. The candles in them were ready for my mother to light and say the special grace. Suddenly, there was a great hubbub outside--the Cossacks were coming! The family ran in terror through the back door and hid themselves (don't know where). The Cossacks, drunk, rode into the house on their horses and with their swords they swept the cloth and dishes and silver off the table, knocked over chairs, cut up pictures on the walls and then left, as quickly as they had come.
St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) was forbidden to Jews, except by special permission from the authorities. I imagine a Jew who had special business there was able to get a pass, but only for a very limited time. However, I do know that there were some Jews living in St. Petersburg. For example, the friends whom we've been visiting, Iva and her husband, Victor, both Jewish, had lived in St. Petersburg. Their parents must have been some kind of professionals; and, as a matter of fact, they all were active in the revolution of 1917-18.
Too bad that you didn't get in touch with me earlier. Ben is really the one who knows much of what went on in old Russia, since he had grown up there. If you think there's time, you should have him write you. Maybe you could call him!