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"These are my roots. This book put me in touch with the resilience and determination of people like my grandparents, Harry and Anna Marcus. Their hard work and resourcefulness made it possible for those of us who came behind them to do well. As a historian, it helped me understand better how ordinary immigrants enriched American life, sometimes overcoming discrimination and other barriers in doing so."

~ Martin Klein, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

A CHANCE FOR LAND AND FRESH AIR: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Sharon and Amenia, 1907-1940

BOOK cover for A Chance For Land and Fresh Air

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and interviews with descendants, many of whom remain in the area, as well as from land records, census data and other historical documents.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

See more about the book, including images and excerpts at



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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.

Please check back for upcoming events.

The Abraham's Daughters presentation provided our congregation with a glimpse of how women from different faith traditions become friends and support each other in their respective religious practice. Their warm and engaging style was just what our congregation needed to see as we seek to develop spiritual friendships in our community.

~ Reverend Brad Bergfalk, First Congregational Church, Litchfield, Connecticut