Almost Related

13 06 2017

harvesting_stones_flyer_09161611 June 11, 2017

Back in November 2016, I went to see Harvesting Stones, a documentary highlighting Jewish farmers in eastern Connecticut. I was fascinated by the stories told, particularly because my father’s grandparents had tried farming in that area from 1896 to 1913, part of the period described. In fact, my father’s parents met on The Farm, my grandmother’s sister told stories about picking bugs off bean plants and pulling rocks on The Farm, and my grandmother’s brother (for whom I am named) was born on The Farm. It was almost a living entity in our family.

After his presentation, I introduced myself to the documentary’s producer, Jerry Fischer. “Are you Milt Lapin’s daughter?” he asked. When I affirmed I was, he broke into a smile, saying, “I loved your father!”

“I did, too,” I laughed and then told him about The Farm.

Chesterfield NEFES“You should join the Descendants of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society (NEHFES),” he said. I didn’t think my great-grandparents had been part of the society, but Jerry assured me it didn’t matter. Over the winter, I researched our family’s history and discovered deeds for The Farm, including mortgages to Baron von Hirsch, typical of NEHFES members. I was in!

Chesterfield attendeesWhich brings me to the present. On June 11, I attended a celebration of NEHFES’s 125th anniversary, held at the site of the former synagogue, mikvah (ritual bath), and creamery. The program was rich with information: Nancy Savin, president, welcomed everyone and read a letter from State Senator Richard Blumenthal. Rabbi Marc Ekstrand gave an invocation, followed by commentary from previous (Mary Donohue) and current (Catherine Labadia) staff from Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office. Montville’s historian Jon Chase (who had assisted with pinpointing my family’s farm’s location) provided the historical development of religious groups in the area.

Cheserfield NickNick Bellantoni, former state archaeologist, described student excavations, while Dr. Miller, from UCONN, talked about some of the unique features of the site.

Chesterfield Jerry

Jerry Fischer completed the program by reminding us that these ancestors had been immigrants and refugees who had been welcomed in this land, and allowed to live according to Jewish law. He urged that that must continue in this country in welcoming refugees and allowing practice of their religious law.

Chesterfield mikvah

Ritual bath

I learned a lot from these presentations and met a dozen or so descendants, some of whom knew some of my family. But I continue to wonder if I really belong in the group. My great-grandparents were not listed in any of the Society’s documents (minutes and membership lists). There’s no one in my family to ask if they were outcasts or just non-joiners or who knows. My guess is that I’m not a true descendant but maybe I’m mishpachah, a Yiddish term for a network of relatives by blood or marriage (and sometimes close friends). I’ll take it!