Baron Hirsch’s Jewish Farmers Dream

Where did it come from?

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, White House Historical Association

Dreams of turning Jewish tradesmen into farmers date back to the mid-eighteenth century and feature some strange bedfellows. Besides Baron Hirsch, these utopian efforts involved Polish patriots, Russian Czars, German Mennonites, and of course, the Zionists. Like Thomas Jefferson, these Europeans and many other eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century thinkers believed that “cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens . . , the most vigorous. . . [and] the most virtuous.”1

The idea of turning Jews into farmers to make them vigorous and virtuous was first proposed In Eastern Europe in the mid-eighteenth century when Austria, Germany, and Russia were trying to gobble up Poland. To ward off this national decapitation the Polish government sought to strengthen Polish society.  One concern was the large number of non-assimilated Jews who had settled in Poland since the 12th Century because of the relatively liberal environment that allowed them to prosper and practice their religion. Many of the Jews worked for the nobles, managing estates and selling crops.   

By the late 18th century, half of the world’s Jews, about 1.5 million, lived in Poland. The Polish bourgeoisie considered this large community of Jews to be unwelcome competitors and the general populous put the Jews in the same basket as the nobles, resenting both.  Polish leaders saw these conflicts as one more cause for the weakness of the country. They thought that if Jews would become farmers they would be like everyone else and the conflicts would cease. Plans were drawn up but were never implemented.  And Austria, Germany, and Russia did gobble up Poland. 

The areas of Poland annexed by Russia are shown in mauve, lilac, and gray.

The majority of the Polish Jews, approximately 1 million, lived in the areas of Eastern Poland that were annexed by Russia between 1772 and 1795. (Listen to a discussion on how this annexation affected these Polish Jews.)

 So when Czar Alexander I rose to the throne in 1801 he faced a dual dilemma. First, how could he populate New Russia and Crimea in southern Russia, lands recently conquered from the Ottomans following the Russo-Turkish Wars? In addition, how could the Czar integrate the one million Jews who had recently come under Russian rule through these partitions of Poland

Continue reading
  1. JEFFERSON, Thomas. Letter to John Jay, Aug. 23, 1785, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (DLC) Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters, Thomas Jefferson, Monticello. []

FLEISCHMANNS

A HEBREW HAMLET IN THE CATSKILLS

Where did early 20th Century Jewish shopkeepers earn so much that they wintered in Paris’ most elegant hotel? In Fleischmanns, a summer home for wealthy German-American Jews, founded in the Western Catskills, in 1883 by Charles Fleischmann of the yeast company fame.

These wealthy summer residents drew lots of Jewish entrepreneurs, many of Hungarian origin, who set up stores, hotels, and camps to service this affluent community. Beginning in the second decade of the 20th Century Eastern European Jewish farmers, storekeepers, and summer visitors also added to the area’s population.

Did Baron Hirsch assist these farmers or contribute funds for the synagogue the Fleischmanns’ Jewish community built in 1920, Congregation B’nai Israel? The answer will have to wait until I can visit the Baron Hirsch archives in New York sometime this year. But meanwhile here is some history of this community taken from a presentation at Congregation B’nai Israel I made in July 2021 which you can watch here.

How did Fleischmanns become a Jewish village?  It all started with Joseph Seligmann, a Jew from Bavaria. He arrived in the US in 1837 at the age of 18.  By the late 1870s, he was a multi-millionaire, his family having made a fortune clothing the Union army.  Years later they even helped finance the Panama Canal.

In the summer of 1877, Seligmann took his family to Saratoga, NY a very fashionable resort, to stay at the Grand Union Hotel where they had stayed before.  But this time he and his family were turned away because they were “Hebrews”.  As we shall see, it could be said that this act of anti-Semitism was what caused Fleischmann’s founding. 

The Seligmann affair became a major scandal widely reported, including in the NY Times. 1. There was even a song written about it:

“The Hebrews they need not apply; the reason we do not know why; But still they do say, it’s a free country; where the Hebrews they need not apply!

Continue reading
  1. New York Times, June 19, 1877, p. 1. []

Life on a Toms River Chicken Farm

The Good, the Bad and the Worse

By Joyce Zelnick Weiss

This story was kindly shared by Joyce Zelnick Weiss. Another story of Growing up on a Chicken Farm in Toms River, by Joyce’s husband Ben Weiss can be found by clicking here.

Toms River, NJ, near the shore just south of Lakewood, 80 miles from Brooklyn

How did a little girl from the big city end up on a chicken farm in the middle of New Jersey?


I will try to tell you my story of living on a farm in the middle of nowhere. In the 1940s Toms River was much further from Brooklyn than it is now. Transportation was not readily available. We would ride on a bus for a few hours while passengers came and went at various stops in New Jersey. For those lucky enough to have a car it was a shorter trip.

BROOKLYN – TOMS RIVER

I was 9 years old when my father, Max, and mother, Bess, decided to move to Toms River. My father was a pharmacist who owned his own store in Brooklyn, N.Y. We lived on the top floor of a two-family house, and Bess’s parents lived downstairs. My parents were immigrants from Ukraine, and it was common to live close to the relatives and friends that one knew from the old country. So my comfort circle of people that I saw all the time were mostly all related to us.

We used to visit my Uncle Philip and Aunt Bertha in Toms River, New Jersey, on their chicken farm which they bought after selling their grocery business in Newark, N.J. Uncle Philip was one of my father’s older brothers, and he was married to Aunt Bertha.

I don’t know how my relatives ended up in Toms River, and I never did find out but, for reasons unknown to me, my parents decided that getting out of the city and moving to the country was a good decision for them and for their children. I don’t recall how long it took for us to pack up and move, but before I knew what was happening, we had moved.

Continue reading

Micaela Feldman y Etchebéhère, hija de Moisés Ville

1902-1992

Click here for English

Clicque aqui para português

Del Museo de Moises Ville

Con esta publicación, sobre Micaela Feldman y Etchebéhère, hija de la colonia agrícola judía de Moisés Ville en Argentina, y veterana de la guerra civil española, comienza a hacerse realidad el proyecto de que thebaronhirschcommunity.org sea un blog trilingüe. Nuestro fin es presentar información en los tres idiomas que llegaron ser las lenguas madres de los descendientes de inmigrantes ayudados por el Barón Hirsch: inglés, portugués y español.

Comenzamos nuestro proyecto trilingüe compartiendo este enlace al artículo, Identidad, género, y prácticas anarquistas en las memorias de Micaela Feldman y Etchebéhère de la investigadora en estudios culturales, Cynthia Gabbay. El artículo analiza el campo intelectual de esta autora franco-argentina, hija de inmigrantes ruso-ucranianos, colonos originales de la comunidad agrícola Moisés Ville en la provincia de Santa Fé, Argentina.

Esta comunidad, donde nació Micaela, fue fundada en 1889. Fue el primer intento del barón Hirsch de establecer a los judíos de Europa del Este como agricultores en el Nuevo Mundo. Basado en esa experiencia, el barón Hirsch fundó la Asociación de Colonización Judía (JCA) que financió otros proyectos similares con mil millones de dólares durante los siguientes 75 años.

Continue reading

On a Clear April Morning Highlights

Preface and Chapter 1

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 9781644692981-683x1024.jpg

Academic Studies Press

Series: Jewish Latin American Studies June 2020 | 146 pp.

9781644692981 | $22.95 | Paperback

Take 20% off your order when you sign up for our newsletter at

www.academicstudiespress.com/newsletter

SUMMARY

On a Clear April Morning, by Marcos Iolovitch, is a lyrical and riveting coming of age story set among early twentieth-century settlers brought to an almost unknown Jewish farming experiment in an isolated corner of Brazil. This autobiographical novel is filled with drama, joy, disasters, romance, and humor. It travels from farms where the crops won’t grow to towns where the Yiddish-speaking protagonist falls in love, befriends sons of German immigrants, studies philosophy with the Jesuits, and becomes an important member of Brazil’s literary world. This first English edition includes elucidating historical notes on the origin of Jewish farming communities in the U.S., Canada and South America by the translator, Merrie Blocker, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer.

About the author and translator

Born in a small Ukrainian village, Marcos Iolovitch was raised in southern Brazil among poor Jewish farmers and peddlers. He became a noted poet and essayist and practiced law. A fighter for social justice, he dedicated his autobiographical novel to “all those who suffer and dream of a better world.”

Merrie Blocker is a former U.S. diplomat who served as Cultural Attaché in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the setting for On a Clear April Morning, as well as in Central Asia, Romania and throughout Latin America.

Translator’s Preface

Marcos Iolovitch, author of On a Clear April Morning, was an avid student of the great philosophers. But he believed that to reach “true wisdom” we need to open our windows and observe the “subtle shades of reality that envelope” us. In this autobiographical novel, in which a young man seeks to find a righteous and fulfilling path, we watch this charming and caring protagonist discover his own wisdom through the realities that envelop him, the realities of Jewish immigrants in southern Brazil during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Continue reading

Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School

Woodbine, New Jersey, 1894-1917

archival records at

Center for Jewish History, NY, NY. inquiries@cjh.org

Philadelphia Jewish Archives scrc@temple.edu

Following article by Paul Batesel https://www.lostcolleges.com/baron-de-hirsch-agricultural-school

History

From The Jewish Farmer, published by the Baron Hirsch Fund

Baron Maurice de Hirsch, a German financier, created a $2,400,000 fund in 1891 to assist Jewish refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe in achieving economic independence in the United States.  With $37,500 of the fund, the settlers purchased land for the colony of Woodbine in southern New Jersey.  In 1894 the Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School was founded to teach scientific agriculture and to provide young Jewish people with the practical skills to become successful farmers.  It was the first agricultural high school in the nation.

Continue reading

Merrie Blocker, Creator

I, Merrie Blocker, am the creator of the baronhirschcommunity.org . Relating and finding stories of Jewish Farmers in the New World, and their descendants worldwide, is the purpose of this site.

I am a retired U.S. foreign service officer. You can find my resume here. My grandfather grew up on a Baron Hirsch- supported chicken farm in northwestern Connecticut, USA. But I only learned that recently when I began to research Baron Hirsch’s support for Jewish farmers throughout the Americas.

I also translated to English the first work to feature the Jewish community in Brazil as subject matter. It is On a Clear April Morning, an autobiographical novel by Marcos Iolovitch. In this novel, he relates growing up as a Ukrainian immigrant to the Quatro Irmãos farming colony in southern Brazil. Quatro Irmãos was one of many colonies supported by Baron Hirsch’s donations.

I hope you will send us your ideas to make this a richer online depository.

Jewish Farming Today

Baron Hirsch’s Work Lives On

Did you know that today there is a renaissance in Jewish farming? For example,  Jewish farms have been sprouting recently in Upstate New York right near many colonies supported by Baron Hirsch.  Read all about it in this article by Leah Koenig that appeared in TABLET magazine

http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/75488/farmville

Or follow news of today’s Jewish farmers around the world through the Jewish Farmer Network.

And for more information on today’s Jewish farmers throughout the United States see this article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jewish farms are booming. Now the farmers want to grow their community.

The Baron Hirsch Jewish Farmers Community

Maurice_de_Hirsch_-_Tableau.jpg

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Baron Maurice de Hirsch, the builder of the Vienna-Constantinople Railroad, and his friends, sponsored the settlement of Eastern European Jews in many lands.  They spent the equivalent of $3 billion in today’s dollars, working primarily in North and South America.

This blog was established to collect and tell the stories of the Jewish farmers that Baron Maurice de Hirsch supported in both North and South America and the follow on stories of their descendants worldwide.

Maurice de Hirsch (né Moritz von Hirsch), Baron de Hirsch (‘Men of the Day. No. 479.’)
by Liborio Prosperi (‘Lib’)
chromolithograph, published in Vanity Fair 26 July 1890
NPG D44500 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

We present written works and visuals depicting the original immigrants and relating the achievements of the descendants of these immigrants.  And there are many achievements. Our forebears were courageous and ingenious people as are their grand and great-grandchildren.

This blog also proposes to unite many of today’s beneficiaries of the Baron’s generosity, We believe that cooperation and sharing among us could result in many inspiring and amazing ideas and projects.

We hope you will send us your stories and permission to publish them.  Click here to contact us.   And if you have a particular question about this immigration phenomenon, let us know.  We will research the answer and write a post.

MORE ON BARON HIRSCH

For the whole story, read the official history of Baron Hirsch’s  Jewish Colonization Association, An Outstretched Arm.

For information on Baron Hirsch’s work in the United States through the Jewish Agricultural Society click on the title of this post by Professor Emeritus of North Carolina State University, Gary Moore.

Here you can find over 50 different books on the life and work of Baron Hirsch?

Also, check out this short summary of Baron Hirsch’s work with Jewish farmers.

And here is a 1910 report from the U.S. Government on “Hebrews in Agriculture”. including many of Baron Hirsch’s projects .

And click here for a list of the archives worldwide of Baron Hirsch related documents, including correspondence with individual immigrants.