Jewish Farmers in Connecticut

LisbonCT_AnsheiIsraelSynagogue

Anshei Israel Synagogue in Lisbon, Connecticut , built in 1936

In this post, videos, an interactive map and many references supplement a short history of Jewish farming communities in Connecticut.

Beginning as early as 1891, Baron Hirsch supported the settlement of Jewish farmers in Connecticut. By 1928 there were over 5000 Jewish farm families in the state. The Baron Hirsch Fund and its subsidiary the Jewish Agricultural Society (JAS) sponsored these projects. The projects continued throughout the first half of the 20th Century, helping not only the Russian Jews escaping pogroms in the first part of the century, but after WWII Holocaust survivors  as well. 

Most of the farms were located in two general areas in Eastern Connecticut, in Somers, Ellington, Rockville, and Vernon, northeast of Hartford and in East Haddam, Colchester, Chesterfield (in the town of Montville), Lebanon and Norwich southeast of Hartford. There were also communities in Newtown near Danbury and in Ellsworth Hills and Amenia near Sharon, close to the border with New York State. In fact, Amenia is just over the NY border and other smaller communities in diverse areas of Connecticut.  Click on the pinpoints on this map for the name and a photo of many of these places.

The Baron Hirsch Fund and the JAS helped farmers obtain mortgages to purchase land or provided them directly with loans. Some of the farmers were graduates of the Fund’s Agricultural School in Woodbine, New Jersey and the JAS also offered extension services. And the Fund published The Jewish Farmer  magazine,  a how to do it resource, first only in Yiddish and after 15 years in both Yiddish and English.

These efforts were part of the Fund’s almost nation-wide effort to “Americanize” Jewish immigrants by helping them leave the big cities for a cleaner and purer life on farms. They assisted close to 10,000 Jewish families across fifteen states.

As found in an article linked to below by Prof. Mark Raider, in the JAS’s 1921 Annual Report, they explained their mission.  “Our nation’s greatest problem is the Americanization of the immigrant. If Americanization is not confined solely to the teaching of English, civics, and of the theories of government, but is conceived to be broad enough to embrace all activity tending to elevate the standards of living, then the work of our Society in all its manifold phases is Americanization of the highest type.”

Jewish store in Colchester

Store in Colchester, Connecticut photographed in 1940

Connecticut was the state welcoming the largest group of these immigrants and the farming communities in Connecticut were the most successful. Immigrants could fairly easily travel the relatively short distance from the major point of entry to the U.S., New York City, and land in Connecticut was rocky and hence cheap. Yankee farmers were glad to sell the rocky soil as they sought to move west to greener pastures.

The Jews realized the rocky land didn’t need to be tilled – it could support dairies and chicken farms, a truly brilliant path because in the years just previous to WWI scientists declared the previously unknown fact that the nutrients in diary products and eggs were especially beneficial to children,  Sales took off. And the Jews also realized that their farms could be vacation sites for other immigrants fleeing the steaming streets of the cities, offering not just bucolic peace, but kosher meals as well.

Many books and articles have been written about the Connecticut Jewish farmers. Links to some of them can be found at the bottom of this post.

And in the past few years there seems to be renewed interest.

“A Chance for Land and Fresh Air: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Ellsworth and Amenia, 1907-1940,” is an exhibit that closed in March, 2017 at the Sharon, CT Historical Society http://sharonhist.org/?event=chance-land-fresh-air-russian-jewish-immigrants-ellsworth-amenia-1907-1940.

“Harvesting Stones” is a 2016 film depicting the tale of the Connecticut immigrants, produced by Jerry Fischer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut. http://www.jewishledger.com/2016/05/improbable-story-connecticuts-jewish-farming-families/

The film’s trailer can be seen through utube at

youtube.com/watch?v=82X0xWjd_G8

And a larger portion of the film can be seen at https://vimeo.com/26735313

In 2008 the PBS program History Detectives aired a segment on an old Jewish farm house in East Saddam, connecticut.  It is in Episode 9 of Season 6.

Preservationist and architectural historian Mary  Donohue gave a 2015 lecture on the history of Connecticut Jewish farmers at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester, Connecticut. The lecture was videoed in two parts. You can watch it on youtube or below.

at youtube.com/watch?v=CrfSvhMgydc      and     youtube.com/watch?v=Y-fgKTsOkCQ

and

For more information on Jewish Farmers in Connecticut see:

BOOKS:

Our Jewish Farmers and the Story of the Jewish Agricultural Society, 1943, by Gabriel Davidson, the General Manager of the Baron Hirsch Fund.

https://www.amazon.com/Jewish-farmers-story-agricultural-society/dp/B0007DQ1

Back to the land, Jewish Farms and resorts in Connecticut, 1890-1945 by Janice Cunningham, published 1998.   Out of Print but available in some public libraries in Connecticut and at the libraries listed at this link

https://www.worldcat.org/title/back-to-the-land-jewish-farms-and-resorts-in-connecticut-1890-1945/oclc/80992068&referer=brief_results

The Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)’s  Guide to the U.S. for the Jewish Immigrant, published 1912

https://www.amazon.com/Guide-United-States-Jewish-Immigrant/dp/1175113042

A History of Jewish Connecticut  by Betty Hoffman, published 2010.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20235241-a-history-of-jewish-connecticut

The History of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, the americanization of the Jewish immigrant  by Samuel Joseph, published 1978  available for sale at Amazon but costly and also available at the Library of Congress and many university libraries.

https://www.amazon.com/History-Baron-Hirsch-Fund-Americanisation/dp/0678011516

A Life of the Land: Connecticut’s  Jewish Farmers by Mary Donohue and Briann Greenfield

https://www.amazon.com/Life-Land-Connecticuts-Jewish-Farmers/dp/B01AASSYA4

Picturing Faith  by Colleen McDanneli, featuring 1940 text and photos prepared by the U.S> Government as part of a Depression relief program that hired photographers and writers to document American communities.

https://www.amazon.com/Picturing-Faith-Photography-Great-Depression/dp/0300184468

ON-LINE RESOURCES:

Excerpts from the book  Picturing Faith about the Colchester community

http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/flashback-photo-jewish-farmers-colchester-conn/

“Hebrew Tillers of the Soil,” a nice summary of the Connecticut Jewish Farmers’ history

http://www.hogriver.org/issues/v04n02/tillers.htm

“From the American Scene: Colchester’s Yankee Jews, a 1955 article from COMMENTARY magazine.

https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/from-the-american-scene-colchesters-yankee-jews/

A 2016 conversation with Sam Gejdenson, a former United States Representative for Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District and a son of Jewish farmers.

http://jfact.org/conversation-with-sam-gejdenson/

A lengthy and very informative article on the Rockville community by Mark Raider, Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Cincinnati

http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/journal/PDF/1995_47_02_00_raider.pdf

Lebanon, Connecticut, Historical and Architectural Resources Inventory 2013.  Pages 22-26 is a discussion of the Jewish Farming Community in Lebanon.

https://www.lebanontownhall.org/resources/2013_lebanon_historical_and_architectural_resources_inventory_introduction.pdf

Teaching Local Immigration History. An 8th grade lesson plan on Connecticut jewish Farmers

http://tah.eastconn.org/tah/1011DS1_LocalImmigration.pdf

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