Some 30 percent of the more than 100 people who came to the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County March 20 had connections to families who worked the land. That was fitting, considering they were there for the opening of an exhibit honoring the history of the area’s Jewish farmers.
The exhibit will be on view at the museum in Freehold throughout the spring and summer and possibly into the fall, said Georgine Eberbright, the museum’s vice president and exhibits chair.
The opening-day program featured a showing of The Land Was Theirs, a documentary film cowritten and codirected by the late Gertrude Wishnick Dubrovsky, who grew up on a farm in Farmingdale and who is celebrated as one of the foremost historians focusing on Jewish agricultural life in New Jersey.
Introducing the program, Eberbright praised Jean Klerman, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, as the “driving force” in creating the exhibit. She also recognized the efforts of museum copresident Jeffrey Wolf, the exhibits committee cochair, and committee members Susan Helfant, Nora Levinson, Marilyn Kass, Michael Berman, Gil Newman, and Karen Wolf.
The exhibit features numerous panels with photos and text depicting highlights from the lives of Jewish poultry farmers who once helped earn Monmouth County the nickname “egg basket of the nation.” Dioramas show chicken coops and farming implements.
There also is a somewhat dramatic painting of a chicken by the internationally famous artist and sculptor George Segal, who died at age 75 in 2000. Segal — who lived for 60 years on a farm in South Brunswick, where he worked in a former chicken coop that he had converted into a studio — is interviewed in the Dubrovsky film, which initially aired on PBS stations in 1993.
Dozens of attendees at the exhibit’s opening day told of strong ties to the Jewish farmers of Monmouth County. Some had actually worked the land alongside parents and siblings. Others had relatives who had been part of the Jewish farmers’ community.
Frank Pinkus came to Howell as a one-year-old in 1940 and still lives on the same Casino Drive property his family farmed for decades. “This exhibit is great, bringing back memories for old-timers and informing younger and newer residents about a Jewish lifestyle that has largely disappeared,” he said.
Pinkus’s lifelong friend Marvin Fenichel was born on the Roseleaf Poultry Farm on Lanes Mill Road in Howell, a 12-acre parcel owned by his family from 1936 until 1985. He now lives in Freehold and works as a volunteer delivering Kosher Meals-on-Wheels for Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Monmouth County.
Jackson resident Lenore Hornick Donner grew up in the township’s Van Hiseville section, where her father, Nathan Hornick, owned and operated a chicken farm. She was accompanied to the museum by a friend, Carol Axelrod, also of Jackson, who expressed surprise at the strong attendance for the opening.
“I never realized there were so many Jews involved in farming in New Jersey,” she said. A show of hands revealed that more than 30 of the approximately 100 visitors had farming backgrounds.
In her opening remarks, Eberbright said that the Jewish farmers of Monmouth County provided a proud episode in the history of the Garden State. “The land filled a need for the farmers, and the farmers in return filled a need for America,” she said.