The NEW ENGLAND HEBREW FARMERS
In 1890, a small group of Russian Jewish immigrants, who had originally come to New York to escape persecution and violence, left Brooklyn on a steamer for Chesterfield, Connecticut, where they proceeded to establish a permanent Orthodox Jewish community. In 1892, under the auspices of the philanthropic Baron Maurice de Hirsch Fund, they established themselves as the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society (NEHFES) and built Connecticut's first rural wooden synagogue and a creamery. The "Chesterfield Hebrews," as the local newspaper called them, wrote a constitution to govern the synagogue community and its activities in 1894, creating a vibrant New World shtetl that thrived into the 1920s.
Although the community is now gone, descendants of these early immigrants reactivated the NEHFES in 2006 to preserve the remains of the community’s historic site and to honor the memories of their ancestors who established a new life in America. Through the hard work of the reactivated organization, the synagogue and creamery site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is Connecticut ’s 24th State Archaeological Preserve. The University of Connecticut conducted a major excavation of the NEHFES mikveh in 2012 and expects to return to excavate the synagogue area in Summer 2016.
We are in the process of translating our precious hand-written Yiddish Ledger and Minutes Book.
NEHFES member-descendants live in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, Vermont and Canada, and currently represent sixteen of the fifty original families. We are dedicated to the protection and preservation of the physical site and historic legacy of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society.
We are eager to identify and welcome more people whose ancestral roots lie in the Chesterfield area and in this interesting chapter of American Jewish History. If you think you may be a descendant of someone from the Chesterfield-Oakdale-Salem area Jewish community, or have any other questions, please contact us.
Nancy R. Savin
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Last updated: July 10, 2016