Jewish Life

The improbable story of Connecticut’s Jewish farming families

By Ari Jacobson

“Harvesting Stones,” an historical documentary produced by Jerry Fischer, is an account of the mostly untold and seemingly unlikely stories of the Jewish farmers of Eastern Connecticut. Fischer, who is executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut, co-directed the film with Frank Borres and co-wrote it with Borres and Carolyn Christman.

In a broader sense, this is the story of the “American Dream.”

Sadly, like many such stories — at least where the Jewish community is concerned — the accounts in “Harvesting Stones” begin with Jews being persecuted by the Nazis, causing them to flee their home countries for New York City. Left adrift in the city without any means of support, they sleep in crowded and depressing tenements, work in sweatshops, and live in terrible squalor.

Through the largesse of the De Hirsch Fund and the Jewish Agricultural Society, many of these refugees were given a chance to escape this urban nightmare and reach for something better.

Norman Berman, a descendant of one of the Jewish farmers who took advantage of the help the De Hirsch Fund and the Jewish Agricultural Society had to offer, sums up the theme of the film perfectly: “The opportunity that was presented was; ‘Look you can raise your child in the fresh air, you can have fields, you can have trees, running water, and most important, you can be your own boss. You don’t have to be in a factory. You can be in charge of your schedule. You can have true freedom.”

Fischer amasses and commits to film a collection of these poignant accounts, mostly told through the mouths of the next generation. Containing very rocky soil, many of the farms failed. Some became successful summer resorts. Others, however, still exist today in the hands of the same Jewish families.

“Harvesting Stones” was put together using a well-balanced mix of historical footage and interviews, along with a voice-over that serves as a guide, giving context when appropriate. This mix, along with more up-to-date footage of the farms in the present day, creates an easy-to-follow and engaging story.

In this way, Jerry Fischer, who spent 14 years creating the film — casts a complete and colorful perspective on his subject matter. Viewers walk away with new-found knowledge of a fascinating and poignant piece of, not just Jewish history, but Connecticut history as well. If you are a history buff at any degree, this is surely a film you will not want to miss.

For more information on “Harvesting Stones” call the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut at (860) 442-8062.

Ari Jacobson is a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, N.Y.

CAP: The Himmelstein farm in Lebanon is among those featured in “Harvesting Stones.” (Contributed photo)

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