Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Making the American soil bloom

Lovely little piece in the NYT about a near-forgotten episode in American Jewish history:
In the 1880's, pogroms and anti-Semitic laws in Russia caused a historic exodus of Jews. Most ended up crowded into tenements in American cities. But some Jewish thinkers urged their brethren, as one of them wrote, "to become tillers of the soil and thus shake off the accusation that we were petty mercenaries living upon the toil of others." And so hundreds of Jews established agricultural colonies on land bought for them by charities and philanthropists.
The odds were against them. Often the land was unyielding. The settlers, mostly tradesman or scholars, were ill prepared for a life of clearing tree stumps and birthing calves.
By the turn of the century, though, the United States was speckled with settlements like Beersheba, Kan., and Bethlehem-Yehudah, S.D. - nearly 100 in all.

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