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!

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  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.

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Baron Hirsch Genealogical and Historical Archives

BREAKING NEWS:

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.

Baron Maurice de Hirsch

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=524793465186555&ref=watch_permalink

In addition, the genealogical and historical archives described below 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. The archives are listed here in alphabetical order by city.

For texts in French, Spanish and Portuguese I suggest copy-pasting into google translate. It really works.

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The Catskills, Farming the Jewish Alps

Hospitality and Kosher Chickens

Original Grossinger Farm at Ferndale, Library of Congress, John Margolies, photographer

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. 

Grossingers Front View, Liberty, NY, Library of Congress, John Margolies, photographer

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.

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  1. 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. []

Nightingale’s Nest, a Catskill Summer Story

This delightful short story was offered to thebaronhirschcommunity.org by the author’s daughter, Nora Fischer Kisch, and the author’s niece and nephew, Tamra Hope Miller and Jon Meyerson. We are very grateful for their generosity.

An Ulster County farm in 1922

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.

In 1936 the author and her mystery writer husband, Bruno Fischer, returned to the idyllic landscapes north of New York City where they became founders of the Three Arrows Cooperative Society , a 125 acre vacation colony based on socialist ideas. Located just south of the Catskills in Putnam Valley, NY , Three Arrows is still active and homes are for sale.

The Catskill’s Nightingale’s Nest

by Ruth Fischer
The author, Ruth Fischer, about the time when she wrote the Nightingale’s Nest. ( courtesy of Nora Fischer Kisch)

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.

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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

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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.

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Baron De Hirsch Agricultural School

Woodbine, New Jersey, 1894-1917

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.

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On a Clear April Morning

A Brazilian Jewish Journey

Cover of On a Clear April Morning, A Brazilian Jewish Journey of Immigration

The first literary work to reflect the Brazilian Jewish community has finally been published in English. It is now available.

Read about it here, check out the preface and first chapter here and book the translator, Merrie Blocker, to speak to your group.

On a Clear April Morningby Marcos Iolovitch, is a lyrical and riveting coming- of-age story. It is set among early 20th Century Jewish settlers brought to an unknown farming experiment in an isolated corner of Brazil.

Drama, joy, disaster, romance, and humor fill this autobiographical novel. The young hero travels from a farm, where the crops wouldn’t grow, to towns where this Yiddish-speaking youngster falls in love, studies philosophy with the Jesuits, and becomes an important member of Brazil’s literary world.

This first English edition includes elucidating historical notes by the translator, Merrie Blocker, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer. They cover the origin of Jewish farming communities in the U.S., Canada, and South America and the contributions of Jews and other immigrants to the development of an avant-garde intellectual center far off the beaten path.

A Jewish Egg Farmers’ Community – Toms River, NJ

welcome to toms river

courtesy tomsriver.org

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.

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Brazilian Jewish Farmers Tell Their Stories

Israelitas no Rio Grande do Sul

This post gives a description of the novels and memoirs left to us by early 20th Century Southern Brazilian farmers.  They offer fascinating portrayals of Jewish immigrant life. The post includes visuals, links to more information and a list of references. We also  include how to find both the original and secondary works  in libraries worldwide.
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