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. []

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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Una comunidad judía de agricultores de huevos - Toms River, NJ

welcome to toms river

cortesía de

Esta es la historia de los granjeros judíos de Toms River que hicieron del condado de Ocean, Nueva Jersey, una capital productora de huevos. Era principios de la primavera de 1910. Sam Kaufman, dueño del bar más grande de Brooklyn, estaba preocupado por sus hijas enfermas. Sabía que tenía que sacarlos del aire rancio de la ciudad de Nueva York. Quizás podría comprar una granja. Pero los Catskills, donde miró por primera vez, carecían de escuelas y tenía cinco hijas que educar. Luego se enteró del río Toms, cerca del mar en el centro de Nueva Jersey. Estaba a solo 75 millas al sur de donde vivía en Brooklyn. NUEVA YORK. Toms River tenía tierras de cultivo a precios razonables, un ambiente de pueblo pequeño, solo 800 habitantes. Lo más importante, tenía una buena escuela secundaria.

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La comunidad judía de la Alianza; Sur de Nueva Jersey

Tiferet Israel shul, Alliance, New Jersey alliance-tc-1425816200

The Tifereth Israel Synagogue, Alliance Community, New Jersey , Built 1884-1885. Visit a virtual tour of this synagogue aquí

¿Vas a la costa sur de Jersey este verano? Haga una excursión de un día al cercano municipio de Pittsgrove, el sitio de la comunidad agrícola de la Alianza financiada por el Barón Hirsch. En mayo de 1882, 42 familias judías rusas llegaron para formar esta cooperativa.

Read more about it about Alliance. and other southern New Jersey farming communities in these references:

Bureau of Statistics of New Jersey, The Jewish Colonies of South Jersey – Historical Sketch of their Establishment and Growth, Camden, NJ: 1901. 

Por qué los judíos no cultivan

Niño en Woodbine NJ Baron Hirsch Farming Colony c. 1900 del Centro de Historia Judía

Mira el artículo de SLATE en el siguiente enlace, sobre por qué los judíos no cultivan. Está escrito por un descendiente de un inmigrante a la Baron Hirsch comunidad agrícola en Woodbine, Nueva Jersey. Es divertido leerlo. Pero, contrariamente a su tesis, había comunidades agrícolas judías en Ucrania y Besarabia e incluso Siberia. De hecho, antes del asesinato del zar Alejandro II en 1881, a los judíos se les permitió, y con frecuencia alentaron, comprar tierras y granjas en Rusia.

Para entrevistas en video con judíos estadounidenses que cultivaron, vaya a