Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Will They Make Farmers? Russian Jews Trying a New Occupation in New Jersey (1890)

Especially during the periods of high immigration to the United States, a great deal of anti-immigrant sentiment existed in the United States. There was a fear by some that the immigrant would take away jobs from those already living in the States. Others thought that a certain type of immigrant would bring diseases with them.

Many immigrants were turned away at Ellis Island because they could not show that they possessed enough money or had gainful employment waiting for them. The U. S. Government did not want immigrants to be “public charges.” This anti-immigrant sentiment was especially strong against the Russian Jews, many of whom left Russia after the assassination of Czar Alexander II, as conditions for them deteriorated quickly as the Jews were blamed for the assassination. Many of these Jews who immigrated to the U.S. were considered unskilled or perhaps semi-skilled, and it was feared that if they were admitted to the U.S., they would become “pauperized” and become public charges. They would mostly move, it was said, into the Lower East Side of New York, live in overcrowded, dirty, disease-infested tenements and generally not make a contribution to society.

One suggestion was to send the newly arrived immigrant out to the country, i.e. New Jersey or points west. Perhaps they could be productive citizens by becoming farmers. In the article “Will They Make Farmers?” published in the SUN in 1890, the anti-immigrant sentiments is expressed and explained, and a report is given by a SUN reporter after his visit to a farming colony in New Jersey.

The article states in part:

“Cable dispatches from apparently trustworthy sources indicate that thousands of Russian Jews will be on their way to this country shortly. Banished from the dominions of the Czar, and in many instances deprived of their property, these persecuted wanderers will be brought to America as the only country in which they will be received. Of course, the great majority will be assisted by the various Hebrew societies formed for the protection of the downtrodden race the world over. That means, to state the case frankly, that many of these immigrants will be assisted paupers. Their passage money, baggage, and means of subsistence after landing must be provided by these societies.

Before the United States Government will allow these immigrants to enter its ports, the immigrants will have to furnish ample proof that they will not become burdens on the American people. The only way in which that can be satisfactorily done will be by securing from the New York Hebrew societies interested in this immigration bonds that will be practical guarantees against pauperism….

The only society that can be relied on to help the immigrants to land here is the Jewish Emigration Protective Society. The immigrants are likely to get their chief assistance from the Hebrews of Europe, especially the Paris Hebrew Alliance. It is the purpose of the prominent Hebrews here to prevent the immigrants, if they do get in, from settling in the large cities, especially in New York. The squalor and misery of the east side Jewish quarter is great enough now, and would be much increased if the population were added to by the green and helpless Russians.

The only hope of the latter is to become farmers, but it is no easy task to make them believe this. For centuries the Russian Jews have been compelled to devote themselves to trade. No other source of income was open to them. They have now an unholy idea of the power of money; they want to gather it in the quickest way, and they don't know how to do this better than in barter and trade. They haven't the faintest idea of farming, they are unused to manual labor, and last but not least, they are averse to the discomforts of farm life.

Their own mode of living is not bound up with luxury, but yet it is not so rough and continuously toilsome as the average farmer's. Many attempts have been made to establish them on farms in this country, but very few have been successful. Many colonies have had to be abandoned altogether after much money had been expended in the attempt to establish them; of the others, only two or three can be considered real successes.

Of the latter, the settlement at Alliance, in New Jersey, is an excellent type. In its history are revealed much of the nature and the ideas of these Russian Jews, and in their present condition are manifested the results of a few years of freedom from persecution.”

In this good-sized article the SUN reporter details his visit to the Alliance settlement and tells the reader about the people he meets there, what he sees and what he learns. This is a very interesting read for those of you who are curious about how a certain segment of the Jewish population (Russian Jewish immigrants) lived and worked in a rural setting before the turn of the twentieth century.

The SUN reporter was quite impressed by the Alliance settlement, and I hope you will be too. Please read this article at the Museum of Family History when you can. The article is part of the Museum’s “How We Worked” ongoing exhibition, and it can be found at www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/lia-hww-farming-sun.htm .

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