This story was kindly shared by Joyce Zelnick Weiss. Another story of Growing up on a Chicken Farmin Toms River, by Joyce’s husband Ben Weiss can be found by clicking here.
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 TomsRiver, 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.
Online searching is available for Baron Hirsch related genealogical records available through the Center for Jewish History in New York. See the video at this Facebook link below for instructions. Some complete records are online, and when only a reference to a record is online you can request the full document from the Center.
In addition, the genealogical and historical archives described below (alphabetized by city) contain reports and correspondence relating to Baron Hirsch-funded Jewish farming projects and individual immigrants who received aid from the Baron Hirsch charitable organizations. These archives are scattered around the world. Some of the holdings have been uploaded digitally – see the links below – but most are only available on-site.
For texts in French, Spanish and Portuguese I suggest copy-pasting into google translate. It really works.
In 1913, Selig and Malke Grossinger, aided by the Baron Hirsch Fund’s Jewish Agricultural Society (JAS), bought a farm in the Catskills Mountains in Ferndale, New York, 100 miles north of Manhattan. They began to take in paying guests who were fleeing New York City’s heat and humidity each summer. 1
The Grossingers were among the close to two thousand other Jewish immigrant families who bought farms in the foothills of the Catskills mountains in the 1890s or during the first decades of the twentieth century, many with JAS assistance. Like these other farmers, the Grossingers found that the rocky Catskills soil, which had allowed them to buy the land cheaply, did not respond well to crop raising.
But summer guests seeking cool air and kosher food were indeed profitable. The Grossingers’ enterprise became extremely profitable, with 150,000 guests each year, served in a property of over 1200 acres that boasted its own airfield and performers as famous as Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis. Grossingers was also the first resort in the country to use artificial snow on its ski slopes. And Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher were married at Grossingers.
Lavender, Abraham, and Steinberg, Clarence, Jewish farmers of the Catskills, In the Catskills, A Century of the Jewish Experience in The Mountains. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. p. 33. [↩]
The Nightingale’s Nest takes place in 1920 on a Jewish farm in Ulster County NY, in the Catskill mountains, 100 miles northwest of Manhattan. You can read more about Jewish farming in the Catskills and the Baron Hirsch Fund’s support for these efforts right here.
Many Jewish farmers in the Catskills,, like the family in The Nightingale’s Nest, rented rooms to summer visitors from crowded New York neighborhoods. These paying guests frequently were on the kuchalayn plan, cooking their own meals, offering the farmers a ready market for their products. Like the Lippman – Miller family, from Belarus, described in this story, these Jewish farmers often obtained financing to purchase these farms from the Baron Hirsch Jewish Agricultural Society.
Nobody cared for animals more than Grandma, if they met her simple specifications of giving milk or eggs. She tolerated a cat for necessary service, but it was only grudgingly given house room.
For as long as I can remember, there was a running battle between my grandmother and grandfather because of his affection for a horse. During the summer when the horse grazed on the open fields and required no greater expenditure than labor, she could overlook his absurd extravagance. But in the winter it was a different story; she would make life miserable for poor Grandpa when the feed bills came in.
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.
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
This is the story of the Toms River Jewish farmers who made Ocean County, New Jersey an egg-producing capital. It was early spring, 1910. Sam Kaufman, owner of the biggest bar in Brooklyn, was worried about his sick daughters. He knew he had to get them out of the stale New York City air. Perhaps he could buy a farm. But the Catskills, where he first looked, lacked schools and he had five daughters to educate. Then he learned of Toms River, near the sea in central New Jersey. It was only 75 miles south of where he lived in Brooklyn. NY. Toms River had reasonably priced farmland, a small town atmosphere, only 800 inhabitants. Most importantly, it had a good high school.
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. They not only helped the Russian Jews escaping pogroms in the first part of the century but after WWII Holocaust survivors as well.
The Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Alliance Community, New Jersey , Built 1884-1885. Visit a virtual tour of this synagogue here.
Going to the southern Jersey shore this summer? Take a day trip to nearby Pittsgrove Township, the site of the Baron Hirsch funded Alliance farming community. In May 1882, 42 Russian Jewish families arrived to form this cooperative.
Read more about it about Alliance. and other southern New Jersey farming communities in these references:
1909 Exhibition of Jewish Farmers of America, Library of Congress photo
This post includes photos and references on the October 1909 Jewish Federation of Farmers conference and fair in New York City. It was held at the Educational Alliance at the corner of East Broadway and Jefferson. The most popular of the 225 exhibits were presented by the Baron Hirsch Agricultural College in Woodbine, New Jersey. Over 50,000 people visited the exhibit. Speakers included the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture, the honorable W.M. Hays.
The Cornell Agricultural College, one of the most important agricultural schools in the United States, as well as the New Haven Experiment Station, the New Jersey College of Agriculture and the Massachusetts Agricultural College, participated in the exhibition. In the 1935 History of the Baron de Hirsch Fund, the author called this participation “true public recognition: American universities taking part in an agricultural exposition organized by Russian Jews.” 1