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

Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank