An Article in Yiddish by Shlomo Zektzer | Found and translated by Norman Berman
Stanley Zektzer: was a farmer, writer, musician and teacher. He was also known also as Shlomo Zektzer. A Holocaust survivor, he found his way to the Fohrenwald displaced persons camp located in Wolfratshausen, Germany – a small, picturesque, Bavarian town some twenty miles south of Munich. In the camp, he formed and led a Yiddish chorus. My parents met Zektzer in the camp and probably heard his chorus sing. It was in Fohrenwald that my parents met, were married and where I was born in 1948.
Upon his arrival to the United States, Zektzer lived in New York for a few years but longed for the country. He and his wife settled in the Danielson area in 1949. Zektzer owned a chicken farm and was one of the teachers in Temple Beth Israel’s newly formed Hebrew School. Eight years after his arrival in Danielson he wrote an article in Yiddish that was published in the Yiddish monthly, Der Yidisher Farmer, (The Jewish Farmer). Nearly all the Jewish famers in and around Danielson received this publication. Zektzer’s article was entitled Der Neier Yishuv in Danielson, (the new Jewish Settlement in Danielson).
A tall, thin, refined and soft spoken man, who walked with a slight limp, Zektzer privately tutored students for their Bar Mitzvahs. I was one of his students in 1960. I remember his coming to our farm in Moosup every Tuesday evening for several months. My mother would make him a cup of tea and he and I would sit at the dining room table. He would sing a line of Hebrew and I would repeat it. This went on for what seemed like an eternity until I learned the entire Shacharit and Musaf services which I lead at my Bar Mitzvah at the Temple.
I discovered Zektzer’s article while researching the history of Jewish farmers in Connecticut, I came upon a footnote which mentioned the article. After many calls I tracked down a copy at YIVO in New York (not easy since it was published only in Yiddish and the magazine is no longer in print) I then attempted the painstaking process of translating the article one word at a time. My mother made me do the same with the Yiddish newspaper when I was a child. It is something I did not forget – like riding a bicycle. In any event, what follows is a rudimentary (not precise) translation of my teacher’s observations of “the new settlement in Danielson.” What is striking to me is Zektzer’s obvious pleasure and pride in the creation of the Temple and the powerful influence of Benjamin Miller’s dream of creating a new Jewish community in rural Connecticut. A copy of the original article in Yiddish appears above.
50th Anniversary Edition | The Jewish Farmer 1908 – 1958
Published by the Jewish Agricultural Society | May 1958 Issue
A New Jewish Settlement in Danielson, Connecticut
By Shlomo Zektzer | Translated from the Yiddish by Norman Berman
It was a beautiful October day in 1949 when Benjamin Miller, representative of the Jewish agricultural Society in New England drove us into Danielson. In contrast to the noise and commotion of the big city, New York, this little town made a very nice impression on us. We were merely eight months in this country – the entire time in New York. And we did not know the customs of people and automobiles. We were looking to settle somewhere far from the roar of the big city to take advantage of the fresh air and the green grass that hundreds of thousands of city people miss so much.
According to Mr. Miller, the farms that we had an opportunity to buy were mostly located far from larger Jewish settlements. In the nearby town of Danielson there was no organized Jewish community. But there were already several newly settled farmers who had appeared in the area and Mr. Miller was optimistic about a larger Jewish settlement in Danielson. He saw the opportunity to settle more of the immigrants here since prices for farms were more affordable as compared to those in New Jersey or New York states in the years 1949 – 1950. Since our capital was weak (we had little money) we decided to settle around Danielson where we were able to buy something in line with our capability.
Driving around with Mr. Miller (we did not yet have our own car and you should understand that we were not drivers) we stopped at a farm where two Jewish families had already settled. The people were thrilled to hear that more Jews were coming and there was formed between us a bond of friendship which has remained ongoing. These were our closest Jewish neighbors although they lived seven miles from our farm.
But Mr. Miller’s dream of a larger settlement became a reality. More immigrant families quickly started to settle and they immediately brought a Jewish spirit into the life of the several Jewish families in and around Danielson. We had our own shochet (ritual slaughterer) from among the farmers and we started to feel the desire for a shul and community center of our own.
We started to meet in the basement of the home of Mr. Sol Baker, an engineer in a manufacturing business who also felt lost in Danielson and longed for a little Yiddishkeit. It quickly became clear that the growing settlement would need to be organized around a shul and a community center which would serve the surrounding region.
In 1951 the foundation was laid for the big Temple Beth Israel in Danielson. Thanks to the energetic work of Mr. Sol Baker, the first president of the Temple and the only one until today, the Temple quickly began to be built. The Jewish farmers threw themselves into the building project with great motivation and they gave and gave beyond their means and strength to the building and maintenance of the Temple. Of the seventy Jewish families around Danielson most were supporters of the Temple.
Truly, for such a modest little settlement, a $60,000 commitment was a difficult undertaking and a little too ambitious, but the project was accomplished and the last phase of the building is about to be completed. This is a truly perfect beginning and a strong and proud achievement for the new Jewish settlement which is less than ten years old.
As the building grew, so did the need for community work. A Sisterhood was organized which fills a supporting role in helping with the financial burdens of the Temple. Also, a Brotherhood which has the role of coordinating the various details of the programs and further work was formed.
Our young children also grew along with the young settlement. It became clear that the younger generation would have to get an opportunity to receive a Jewish upbringing. Such an opportunity was developed through the Hebrew School at the Temple. It is no exaggeration to say that the Hebrew School is the most important achievement of the Danielson settlement. Thanks to the early work of the two rabbis, Kazonofski and Gordon, and, for the past two years, thanks to the energetic work of the “farmer – teachers”, Leon Israelit and Shlomo Zektzer, the children a total of twenty three altogether have achieved a great deal in their studies. The involvement of the children in the celebrations of the holidays bring much life and joy in the community. The well prepared and well organized plays presented by the children provide their parents and the rest of the community cultural and historic programs and entertainment.
To this day, the settlement in Danielson Connecticut stands on a firm footing. The newly arrived Jewish farmers have managed through bad and good times to improve their farms. We take part in national campaigns such as the Israel Bond drives. In one day we raised over $2,500.
It is noteworthy to tell you that the Jewish farmers as a group earned much respect among their Christian neighbors. Our neighbors have witnessed that Jews are not only a people of merchants and peddlers and other, typical Jewish endeavors. But they are also good and hard workers and citizens and have raised the living standard of the region. We have rejuvenated neglected farms into thriving businesses. Thanks to our industriousness, our desire to put down roots and the ties to our homes and famers, we have shown perseverance and resilience and that we have the ability to get through the occasional difficult times that are tied to chicken farming and we have come to a point of pride and success at which we find ourselves today.
Shlomo Zektzer, May, 1958