Thursday, July 7, 2011

Those Places Thursday: Woodbine, New Jersey

My husband's mother was born in New York City, but by 1930, she and her brother were back in Woodbine, New Jersey, where their mother, Rose (Levitt) Goldstein was born (in 1902) and raised.

The Borough of Woodbine's website has a wonderful summary of the community and its early history. Although the community of Woodbine was founded in 1891, within Dennis Township in Cape May County, New Jersey, it was not until 1903 that it was incorporated as a Borough. In 1891, the Baron DeHirsch Fund purchased the 5,300 acres (about 8 square miles) in Dennis Township to start an agricultural settlement for immigrant Eastern European Jews. The town's website indicates that Woodbine was known as the "First self-governed Jewish community since the fall of Jerusalem" because most of the original settlers were Jewish.

Baron DeHirsch
Baron Maurice DeHirsch (1831-1896), known as Baron DeHirsch, was a wealthy German Jewish businessman who wanted to support Jewish immigrants once they arrived in the U.S. by teaching them trades and occupations. One of his many philanthropic endeavors was the Baron DeHirsch Fund, established in 1891 in New York City. The Fund's Board of Directors were given great flexibility in what organizations and activities the Fund could support, and developing an agricultural community in southern New Jersey was one of their projects. More information about the Fund can be found at the Center for Jewish History website. Note that because of poor soil, Woodbine was not successful as an agricultural community, but became a manufacturing town.

The story that has come down in my mother-in-law's family is that Baron DeHirsch went around to the Jewish immigrants in New York City and encouraged them to come to Woodbine to work, that there were plenty of jobs. (My guess it that it was likely a representative of the Fund, as the Baron died in Hungary in 1896, at age 64.) According to my grandmother-in-law (Rose (Levitt) Goldstein, who died in 1995), her father, (my husband's great grandfather), Max Levitt, a widower with three children, was interested in this opportunity and planned to come to Woodbine with his family. The oldest son, Manuel (or Emanuel?), didn't want to go to New Jersey and ran away from the family in New York. There was a search for him, but he was never found, so Max went to Woodbine with his two younger children, David and Rebecca, where he met and married Golda Segal and had four more children, one of whom was my husband's grandmother, and became an established member of the Woodbine Community. See my earlier post for their gravestones. The family never found out what happened to the oldest Levitt son.

The Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue was the center of religious life in Woodbine. Now that there are very few Jewish families in Woodbine, the Synagogue is only open on the High Holidays for out of town members who enjoy returning to the old synagogue. About ten years ago, the synagogue was renovated and the lower floor made into The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, which includes much information about the establishment and history of Woodbine.


The Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue, now The Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage

Thank you to my husband, for this photograph taken June 2011.

Those Places Thursday is a daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers, the genealogy community’s resource for blogging. It is used by many genealogy bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.  

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