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.
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.