In 1907, Russian Jewish immigrants began buying dairy farms in the Ellsworth hills above Sharon, Connecticut. This is the story of thirty families, some of whose descendants still work farms around Sharon. Since Ellsworth's land was stony, many of the immigrants subsidized their farm incomes by offering room and kosher board to New Yorkers wanting a "farm vacation." However, in the 1920s the immigrants began leaving either for more fertile farm land or to purchase properties that could be turned into boarding houses and hotels in neighboring Amenia, New York. Located on a train stop just across the state line at the "gateway to the Berkshires," Amedia became a lively Jewish resort for the next several decades. The village's Congregation Beth David, build by the immigrants, remains a reform synagogue today.
In A Chance for Land and Fresh Air 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and interviews with descendants, many of whom remain in the area, as well as from land records, census data and other historical documents.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 Sharon Historical Society & Museum. The exhibit was on display at the Historical Society between October 2016 and April 2017. The exhibit is now permanently installed in Amenia’s Congregation Beth David.
The book and this website was made possible by a generous gift from Raymond Learsy, as well as contributions from the following descendants and friends of the Ellsworth families: Richard Arnoff, Joy Behr, Tina Bolton, Sarah and Chris Coon, Fern and Stuart Fisher, Alan and Gail Gamble, Samuel and Estelle Gorkofsky, Macey Levin and Gloria Miller, Jeffrey and Annette Marcus, Michael Marcus, Neil Marcus, Debra Osofsky, Charley Paley, Barbara and Brent Prindle, and Michael and Peter Roth. Audrey and Richard Ruge and Karen Lewis contributed in memory of their grandparents, Becky and Harry Weinstein.
With gratitude to the Connecticut Humanities and the Wasserman-Streit Y'DIYAH Fund, which made possible the original exhibition at the Sharon Historical Society & Museum.