~ Martin Klein, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
In 1907, the first of thirty Russian Jewish families settled in the Ellsworth hills above Sharon to try their hand at dairy farming. Most of the immigrants purchased land with mortgage assistance from the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society, an organization in New York City’s Lower East Side funded by the Belgian Jewish philanthropist, Baron Maurice de Hirsch. The Russian Czar had forbidden Jews to farm, and Hirsch hoped that farming would enable Jews to become productive and fully-respected citizens in America. But the Ellsworth hills were too stony for dairy farming, and most families subsidized their incomes by offering kosher vacations to New York City Jews wanting fresh air.
In the 1920s, as their children reached high school age, the Russian Jews began moving down from the hills, many to Amenia, New York, where the high school was more welcoming. Amenia was directly on the train line, and so accessible to vacationers. The immigrants built kosher boarding houses and small hotels, as well as a range of business. By the end of the decade, Amenia was a busy resort town, and the Jews were finally able to build a synagogue that ninety years later thrives as Congregation Beth David.
Ascher draws her important and moving story of Jewish rural life in the early decades of the twentieth century from photos and interviews with descendants, many of whom remain in the area, as well as from land records, census data and other historical documents. Thanks to funding from Baron de Hirsch, similar settlements of Russian Jewish farmers took place in other rural communities in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, as well as throughout the United States and Canada.
A Chance for Land and Fresh Air
is based on and expands an exhibit that Ascher curated for the Sharon Historical Society. The exhibit was on display at the Historical Society between October 2016 and April 2017. It is now permanently installed in Amenia’s Congregation Beth David,Congregation Beth David
3344 East Main Street, Route 343, Amenia, NY 12501
Purchase A Chance For Land and Fresh Air
Abrahams Four Daughters, Carol Ascher, Nancy Latif, Eileen Epperson and Vjosa Qerimi, photo by Asher Pavel, taken at a presentation at the Salisbury Congregational Church, November 19, 2017
Carol Ascher, Eileen Epperson, Nancy Latif and Vjosa Qerimi, women of Jewish, Christian and Muslim backgrounds, share their personal religious journeys, and what they cherish in their faiths. Our goals are to both model a very personal conversation about spiritual beliefs that most people are shy of discussing, and to show that such conversations can occur amidst developing trust and friendship, despite very different notions of the divine.
Abraham's Daughters has been presenting interfaith conversations in churches, synagogues and other venues in northwest Connecticut and New York. Our aim is to help our audience become comfortable with discussions that involve differences in tradition and belief.
November 19, 2pm, World Café, Salisbury Congregational Church, Salisbury, CT
December 9, 11 am, Congregation Ahavath Shalom, Great Barrington, MA
January 21, 11 am, United Congregational Church of Litchfield, Litchfield, CT
February 15, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, Hartford, CT. Check for time.
March 18, First Church, Middletown, CT. Check for time.
Us and Them
Every four years our presidential election sharpens my sense of Us and Them. As usual, my party’s positions seem more compassionate and reasonable, and my party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, despite her regularly analyzed faults, a much stronger choice...
Talking - and listening - To Each Other About Guns
Republicans were accusing President Obama’s modest executive action to increase background checks on gun purchases as being unconstitutional and the act of a dictator, when on Sunday, Jan. 10, I traveled an hour south through driving rain to Newtown Congregational Church. A documentary about an evangelical minister...
Returning to School Late in Life
(Page 39) Over forty years had passed since I’d been a student when I registered for a course at Hartford Seminary. Although I had taught writing at local libraries, and am a constant reader and writer, graduate school (which I had plowed through dur- ing the rough years of Vietnam War protests) had left me with an allergy to formal schooling.
Hidden Houses of Worhship
Most of us easily recognize our New England countryside by the traditional white or brick Protestant churches that anchor the villages, their white spires often visible from a distance. Yet these days most New England communities are also home to Catholic churches, as well as smaller Protestant denomina- tions that may not be housed in traditional churches. As for our mosques, temples, and other houses of workshop, it’s easy to miss them as we drive by.
How Connecticut's Jewish Farmers Exemplify the Power of Philanthropy
I had been living in the hills above Sharon, CT, for some time when I heard that a Russian Jewish family had once lived about a mile away. Then a neighbor mentioned that his father had bought their several-hundred-acre farm from “a Jew” in 1926. The mention of a third Russian Jewish farmer..
The Politics of Prejudice and the Syrian Refugee Crisis
The many thousands of Syrian refugees seeking a safe haven on our shores are being twice victimized – first by the bloody civil war that caused them to flee their homeland, and a second time by the prejudice and fear making us indifferent to their suffering and squeezing their chance of asylum to a shameful trickle. As Jews, indifference...
Can Pro-Gun be Pro-Life?
I have come to the Newtown Congregational Church, less than a half mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, to attend an interfaith discourse about guns in our society. The program opens with a showing of The Armor of Light, a film documenting...
When Your Great-Great-Great Granny is a Santa Fe Ghost
In American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest (HarperCollins), award-winning author Hannah Nordhaus treats us to a genealogical detective story that combines memoir, cultural history, and ghost hunting in her quest to discover the truth about her great great-great-grandmother...
The Ploughsare without Fear - Remembering Martin Buber
With Israel armed against its occupied territories and surrounding Arab nations, I often think longingly of Martin Buber’s vision of neighborly relationships between Jews and Arabs. Most Americans know Buber, who died fifty years ago, for his moving renderings of Hasidic tales and his great philosophical treatise, I and Thou. Yet for more than six decades...