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August 14, 1981 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-08-14

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12 Friday, August 14, 1981


Turn-of-Century Settlement Near Bad Axe

WSU Press Volume on 'Jewish Agricultural Utopias'
Includes . the History of Michigan's Palestine Colony

An extensive study of
Jewish farming settlements
in this country reconstructs
the story of the Palestine
Colony which existed for
less than a decade near Bad
Axe, Mich.
The interesting experi-
ences of the Palestine Col-
ony settlers is part of an
overall American Jewish
farming experience detailed
by Uri D. Herscher, associ-
ate professor of American
Jewish history and execu-
tive vice president of He-
brew Union College-Jewish
Institue of Religion. His
"Jewish Agricultural
Utopias in America, 1880-
1919" is published by
Wayne State University
Prof. Herscher describes
the interest in farming by
immigrants from Russia
who established agricul-
tural centers in New Jersey,
South Dakota, Oregon,
Colorado, Louisiana, Ar-
kansas, Virginia, as well as
Limited to urbaniza-
tion, deprived of the right
to develop agriculturally,
there was an eagerness
during the years devoted
to this study, by the Rus-
sian Jewish immigrants,
to establish themselves
on farms.
The organizers of the col-
lective farms stemmed from
all areas of Jewish life. They
were the religious as well as
the agnostics. Some pur-
sued their tasks individu-
ally, some with the aid of
supporters from philan-
thropic groups in the coun-
try. Some were dependant
upon the Baron de Hirsch
Only in New Jersey, close
to the massively Jewish
populated areas like New
York, were these farms able
to survive as agro-
industrial objectives.
Dr. Herscher explains
how the love of Zion, by
those who chose to come to
this country, was combined
in the undertaking for the
Palestine Colony.
Those who combined
that aspiration, the love
for Zion and the desire to
become farmers, who
formed the Palestine
Colony, were from Bay
City, Mich. Hyman
Lewenberg, in this coun-
try 11 years, conceived
the idea. His compatriots
had all been peddlers. All
the others were newcom-
It was in July 1891 that
12 parcels of land were pur-
chased in behalf of the

them in September 1892. sleep on the bare ground, ture has itself revealed
Here is the report Butzel in weather and storm, the diverse causes of fail-
gave to the Baron de with the animals of the ure. Despite all the aid
Hirsch Fund on the field as their companions received, the odds were
but they braved it all with simply too great. Even
status of the colonists:
"These people, both men the ultimate expectation before the colony had
and women . . . through of possessing what they gotten under way, the
industry early and late, in then began to toil for. It protectionism of Ameri-
all kinds of weather, seem to should not be difficult to can economic policy
have accomplished all that convince you how almost plunged the country into
could be expected in such a insurmountable were the the disastrous financial
short time and have given obstacles they had to panic of 1893, spelling
striking proof of their sin- contend with and it is ruin for America'r
cere intention and earnest- surprising that they did ricultural and indus
classes alike.
ness to become farmers in not lose heart.
"And the Palestine col-
"That they were industri-
fact . . . Notwithstanding
their present poverty, ous beyond measure none - onists' inexperience as far-
scanty food and poor habita- can gainsay as their own mers contributed a sizable
tion which would discour- shoulders served as animals share to the doom of their
age others, these families which they had not the valiant attempt. One pri-
mary cause, however, was
seem willing to make sac-
the time period.
rifices of all personal corn-
"After 1900, when the
forts and stick to farming."
country's agricultural de-
The colonists' farm pro-
pression lifted somewhat
duce was displayed at Tem-
and the situation of farmers
group by Lewenberg from
ple Beth El in September of
began to improve, Michigan
Langdon Hubbard and his
1892. Dr. Herscher com-
became the home of many a
ments: "It was probably the
sot, Frank.
_thriving Jewish farmer.
The land purchased was
first exhibition to be held in
The success of these later
in Bad Axe. The author lists
the United States of farm
ventures, however, to no
the size of parcels acquired
products raised by Jews. As
degree diminishes the grit
a memento, a small parcel of
by the new settlers.
and exertion of the pioneers
The pioneers built several
two potatoes was sent to
of Huron County's Palestine
each of the trustees of the
shacks, but many were
forced to sleep in the open.
Baron de Hirsch Fund."
Such was the dramatic at-
Inclement weather com-
The height of Palestine
pelled them to secure shel-
Colony progress was in 1893 means to purchase, and tempt to introduce Jewish-
ter in Bay City, 50 miles
and 1894, and in the latter their Christian neighbors activated farming
from Bad Axe. Those who
year, "for the first time, the testify to their pluck, enterprises in Michigan.
remained withstood hard-
farmers, who had gained a energy and determination." There were other such
ships, built new houses,
few additional recruits,
But the fund rejected a movements in subsequent
earned enough for their request for more financial years. Some farming proj-
prepared for spring plow-
maintenance and were able aid, contending that ects in South Haven were
Survival of the Pales-
to make partial payments "further nursing would only successful. Some continue.
Among the most in-
on their annual interest."
tine Colony was due to
prolong the agony."
A synagogue was built,
the deep interest of two
But the contracts were teresting farm agricul-
leading Detfoiters,
there was a religious modifed, enabling the col- tural Jewish aspirations
whose support was vital
school and a shohet from onists to hold on to the land. was the short-lived Sun-
for the settlers. Martin
Saginaw saw to the col- Quitclaims were made over rise Colony near
Butzel, then a prominent
onists' needs for kosher to Henry Rice, a trustee of Saginaw. It was or-
Detroit clothier, who was
meat. There was a volun- the De Hirsch Fund. They ganized with several
among the pioneering
tary cantor and teacher were mere palliatives. In hundred participants in
Butzel family in Michigan
for-.a--short time, in the January 1898 the Hubbard 1931. It. _continued until
and who was among the
person of Rev. Charles Co. again notified Butzel 1936, when internal con-
early presidents of Tem-
Goodwin of Bay City.
because payments had not flicts led to the collapse of
ple Beth El, and Emanuel
Then came the crisis. The been made and taxes and the project.
Dr. Peter Shifrin is best
Wodic, a Civil War vete-
colonists in the autumn of drain assessments had piled
ran who served in the
1895 were unable to hold up. Eviction notices were to qualified to relate that
story. He was the colony's
capacity of beadle at De-
the land, defaulting for be served.
troit's Temple Beth El,
merchandise from the Hub-
Another appeal was physician from 1932 to
gave their deep devotion
bard Co. in the amount of made to the fund "and 1935, after his graduation
to the colonists. They a lack of facilities at the col- $1,300. There was pressure full settlement of $825 out from the University of
provided aid through the ony.
for a lien on the property of the $1,552.17 debt to Michigan.
He became an integrated
Beth El Hebrew Relief
Meanwhile, Butzel con- and Butzel came to plead for the Hubbard Co. was
participant in the colony,
tinued to seek aid for the the settlers. He appealed for made."
(In Herscher's book,
colony in Detroit. He drew aid, each farmer's inde-
There was another de-
Wodic is spelled with a upon the Baron de Hirsch btedness being $100.
faulting in January 1899,
double "o." In the Detroit Fund which had just been
Butzel pleaded: "I hope
records it was spelled as established at the inspira- and trust that you will not. and disintegration began in
the fall of 1899. Only eight
tion and support of Baron only grant this request but families remained in 1900.
Martin Butzel was the Maurice De Hirsch of Paris. give them aid, comfort and They also left soon after-
advice which would give all ward and all but three par-
father of the late Leo Butzel,
The noted philanthropist, parties peace of mind and cels of land reverted to the
the prominent Detroit at-
torney. His grandson, Mar- Jacob H. Schiff, who was satisfy the teaching of the Hubbard Co.
tin Butzel, also was active active in behalf of the De Savior and the God of Israel
Here is how the Herscher
in the law for many years Hirsch Fund, recognized the alike." Eviction suits were account of the Palestine
until his retirement this need and granted Butzel a dropped and new contracts Colony experience con-
were drawn up, signed by
year at the age of 70, Martin loan of $3,000.
Butzel personally dis- each farmer individually,
Butzel's brother, Magnus
"Lewenberg appealed to
Butzel, was the father of the tributed the money to the and there was an agreement the Baron de Hirsch Fund was able to guide the Je
nationally prominent colonists on his visit with that in the event of a default for release of the quitclaim farmers health-wise and
the land was to be surren- deed so that he could realize even in guiding them in
dered without legal process. something on his land care of the horses and cattle.
Due to poor management, through sale. Moses
American Jewish farm-
the crops failed in 1897. A Heidenrich did the same ing movements at no time
Baron de Hirsch agent came and moved to the village of matched the devotion to the
to investigate, spoke Bad Axe where he remained Return-to-the-Soil move-
enthusiastically about the until his death. The depar- ment in Israel. But it re-
farmers' devotion, but the ture of these latter two tains interesting aspects
conditions he described marked the end of the with noteworthy credibil-
were poor:
Palestine venture.
"The story of the ven-
"Some of them had to

philanthropist Fred M. But-
zel and of the late Michigan
State Supreme Court Jus-
tice Henry M:' Butzel.
Wodic is described as the
foremost Macomb County,
Michigan, farmer. At But-
zel's request he investigated
conditions affecting the
Palestine Colony. In March
1892 he found a population
of 57 in the colony — 16
men, seven women, 26 boys
and eight girls. There were
10 occupied shacks. Not
more than two acres had
been cleared on each of the
16 farms.
There were seven horses
and two cows.
Wodic reported on
conditions there at a
meeting of the Beth El Re-
lief Society and there-
upon a supply of clo-
thing, groceries and
Passover supplies were
sent to the colonists. An
additional sum of $1,200
was voted to be spent at
Wodic's discretion.
Wodic provided agricul-
tural implements for the
farmers, stayed on at the
colony the entire summer of
1893 and taught the rudi-
ments of sowing, cultivat-
ing and harvesting. He
served without compensa-
tion, tramping daily four
miles each way to and from
Bad Axe lodgings because of


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