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

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  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. []



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 aquí.

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 which can be seen in the illustration above. It had a mighty chorus:

“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!

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

La vida en una granja de pollos de Toms River

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 aquí.

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.


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.

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Los Catskills, cultivando los Alpes judíos

Hospitalidad y pollos kosher

Granja Grossinger original en Ferndale, Biblioteca del Congreso, John Margolies, fotógrafo

En 1913, Selig y Malke Grossinger, ayudados por la Sociedad Agrícola Judía (JAS) del Fondo Baron Hirsch, compraron una granja en las montañas Catskills en Ferndale, Nueva York, 100 millas al norte de Manhattan. Comenzaron a recibir huéspedes que pagaban y que huían del calor y la humedad de la ciudad de Nueva York cada verano. 1

Los Grossinger estaban entre las cerca de dos mil familias judías inmigrantes que compraron granjas en las estribaciones de las montañas Catskills en la década de 1890 o durante las primeras décadas del siglo XX, muchas de ellas con ayuda de JAS. Al igual que estos otros agricultores, los Grossingers descubrieron que el suelo rocoso de Catskills, que les había permitido comprar la tierra a bajo precio, no respondía bien a la cosecha. 

Vista frontal de Grossingers, Liberty, NY, Biblioteca del Congreso, John Margolies, fotógrafo

Pero los huéspedes de verano que buscaban aire fresco y comida kosher eran realmente rentables. La empresa de los Grossingers se volvió extremadamente rentable, con 150,000 invitados cada año, servida en una propiedad de más de 1200 acres que contaba con su propio aeródromo y artistas tan famosos como Frank Sinatra y Jerry Lewis. Grossingers también fue el primer centro turístico del país en utilizar nieve artificial en sus pistas de esquí. Y Elizabeth Taylor y Eddie Fisher se casaron en Grossingers.

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  1. Lavender, Abraham y Steinberg, Clarence, granjeros judíos de los Catskills, En Catskills, un siglo de la experiencia judía en las montañas. Nueva York: Columbia University Press, 2002. p. 33) []

Escuela Agrícola Baron De Hirsch

Woodbine, Nueva Jersey, 1894-1917

The school’s archival records are located at the Center for Jewish History, NY, NY. and the Philadelphia Jewish Archives

The following article is by Paul Batesel


De El granjero judío, publicado por el Fondo Baron Hirsch

Baron Maurice de Hirsch, un financiero alemán, creó un fondo $2,400,000 en 1891 para ayudar a los refugiados judíos de Rusia y Europa del Este a lograr la independencia económica en los Estados Unidos. Con $37,500 del fondo, los colonos compraron tierras para la colonia de Woodbine en el sur de Nueva Jersey. En 1894, se fundó la Escuela Agrícola Baron De Hirsch para enseñar agricultura científica y proporcionar a los jóvenes judíos las habilidades prácticas para convertirse en agricultores exitosos. Fue la primera escuela secundaria agrícola en la nación.

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Granjeros judíos de Connecticut

Anshei Israel Synagogue in Lisbon, Connecticut, built in 1936

En esta publicación, videos, un mapa interactivo y muchas referencias complementan una breve historia de las comunidades agrícolas judías en Connecticut.

A partir de 1891, Baron Hirsch apoyó el asentamiento de agricultores judíos en Connecticut. Para 1928, había más de 5000 familias judías en el estado. El Baron Hirsch Fund y su subsidiaria, la Jewish Agricultural Society (JAS), patrocinaron estos proyectos. Los proyectos continuaron durante la primera mitad de los 20th Century. They not only helped the Eastern European Jews escaping pogroms in the first part of the century, but after WWII, Holocaust survivors as well.

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