The Jewish Farming Community of Beersheba, Kansas

In response to the rising tide of Jewish immigration to the U.S. from Eastern and Central Europe in the 1880s, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise—the pioneer of American Reform Judaism—founded the Hebrew Union Agricultural Society to help these new arrivals settle in the Midwest, where the federal government was giving away land to anyone who cultivated it. Wise’s scheme was one of several contemporaneous projects to encourage Jews to take up farming, whether in the land of Israel, the Americas, or elsewhere. As the society’s flagship program, he created the colony of Beersheba, Kansas. Naomi Sandweiss writes:

By July 1882, the society [had] selected 59 men and their families, “all sound and robust-looking people,” to populate the settlement. Rabbi Wise’s own son, Leo Wise, accompanied the colonists to Kansas City to furnish them with supplies and guide them to their new home near the Pawnee River. In addition to a Torah scroll and a shofar, the agricultural society provided tents, farming implements, and livestock.

Initially, Beersheba’s progress was promising. The colonists built a 60-foot sod schoolhouse that doubled as a synagogue. They dug wells, farmed sorghum and kitchen vegetables, cared for . . . livestock, and warmed their houses with cow chips collected from the nearby cattle trails. They celebrated at the synagogue . . . and observed the Sabbath. . . . By most accounts, the newcomers were welcomed by their Gentile neighbors, with cowboys even offering meals of antelope steak, coffee, onions, and bread out of their chuck wagons to the settlers. . . .

After Beersheba’s initial success, disputes erupted between community members and the administrator Joseph Baum, a Hungarian-born Jew appointed by Rabbi Wise and the agricultural society. The conflict came to a head in 1884 when settlers began to explore other enterprises, including leasing part of their properties to cattle herders. In retribution, Wise and the agricultural society abruptly recalled the livestock and farming implements that they had supplied to the offenders. . . .

Shortly thereafter, the Beersheba colonists began dispersing and seeking their fortunes elsewhere, operating meat markets and dry-goods stores in the nearby [Kansas] boomtowns of Eminence and Ravanna and further afield in Garden City, Dodge City, and Wichita. At least half of the residents remained long enough to claim ownership of their 160-acre parcels [from the federal government] and on May 24, 1887, nine colonists filed their intent for U.S. citizenship. Several of the new land owners quickly mortgaged their properties for $200 each to fund future enterprises.

In short, like other similar projects, Wise’s agricultural society succeeded in helping Jews settle in the U.S. and find a path to self-sufficiency, even as it failed to create a new breed of Jewish farmers.

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More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, Midwest

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat