Preface A Shtetl in America

When I woke up on the morning of December 5th, 2003, I looked out of the window and saw that a foot of snow had fallen overnight. Sixty years before, I had lived with my grandparents on a farm in Mountaindale, New York. I thought back to what a foot of snow meant to me then as contrasted to what a foot of snow means now. Suddenly, at the age of seventy-five, I had a "nostalgic moment." I sat down and wrote some notes with a promise to myself that I would some day finish writing my story. This book is the fulfillment of that promise.

During the Depression my family moved from New York City to my grandparents' farm (1934-1941). When they returned to the Bronx in 1941 I was left behind to stay with my aging grandparents. I was to help with the heavy work (carrying the hundred pound bags of feed and the 40 gallon milk cans, cleaning the barns, etc.) and along the way gain wisdom from my grandfather. In those few years I learned a code of behavior, a code of morality, and a code of ethics that have served me for a lifetime.

I had a unique experience growing up as a teenager on a farm for four years with my grandparents. As their last living grandchild I want to record for posterity my experience and their experiences of "coming to America." This is the story of my growing up in a different place, a different time, and a different world.

Volume One - Personal Journey

Volume One goes back more than 135 years to 1875 when my grandfather was born in Slonim, Russia. It includes changing his first name for health reasons, how he met my grandmother, his coming to America without his family and sending for them six years later. After arriving in the United States, it explains why he bought a farm when he had never been a farmer in Europe and knew nothing about farming, and why he then converted the farm into a hotel when he knew nothing about the hotel business. Later, when I went to live with my grandparents, he helped me. Through his actions and thoughts, he taught me how to grow to be a responsible and mature young man.

The first chapter is a duplicate of the one that is in the "About the Author" section in the book titled Remembrance of Synagogues Past -The Lost Civilization of the Jewish South Bronx (Which can be found free of charge at After the first chapter, each chapter revolves around a central theme - coming to America and living on a farm in the first half of the twentieth century. Between 1880 and 1922, two million Jews from Eastern Europe migrated to the United States. Practically none ever returned to Europe. They were discouraged from going back by anti-Semitism and the Pogroms. My grandparents and parents were among those two million Jews.

My hope is that this book will provide much information, some inspiration and an invitation to spend a while in the life, the activities and the thoughts of a Russian Jewish immigrant family living on a farm in rural New York State in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

My generation is the last to have known, personally, the people who came from Eastern Europe in the Great Migration at the beginning of the 20th century. If we don't relate their experience as true to life people, then two generations from now our descendents will know them only as names listed on the walls of Ellis Island and on the manifests of the ships that brought them to America.

Part Two

The information for part two is from the 1930s census, as well as facts not in the census that come from observation and reminiscences.

I recently realized that Mountaindale between 1930 and 1945 could be described as a huge rural cocoon. Two million people from Eastern Europe emigrated to the United States. They were young, energetic and ambitious. They spoke Russian, Polish and Yiddish. Very few spoke any English. Most settled in New York City where they found jobs, learned English, and got married. After a few years they had saved and/or borrowed enough money to start their own business, perhaps to open a store in Mountaindale. With variations, most followed essentially the same path. Each man came to America an eastern European immigrant. By the time he opened his store he had completely metamorphosed. He was now an American Jewish merchant who spoke only English with his patrons.

Mountaindale from 1930 to 1945 was not exactly a static community, but was in transition. In 1930 there were horses and buggies in the street. By 1945 there were no horses and buggies, only automobiles. The world was in transition and this affected the people in Mountaindale. In 1930 it was an isolated hamlet. By 1945 improved transportation gave the residents more opportunities for shopping and the young people more opportunities for socialization. In 1930 the concerns of citizens related mainly to the depression. By 1945 their concerns were world related. During World War II all the young men went into the Army and Navy, and their parents were concerned with battlefields in Western Europe and Asia.

During the war years New York City vacationers had plenty of money and no place to spend it. So the Catskills tourist business did very well.

Why did the Jews come to Mountaindale?

It is written in the Talmud: "Birds of a feather flock together." Part two of the book provides the reader with a window into how a group of Russian immigrants created an environment that defined the Jewish values and culture of the people in Mountaindale, New York, a shtetl in America.