I’m a big believer in remembering the past to learn lessons for the present. I will start with the guiding principle that all Jews should make aliyah. This is our dream. Many have been fortunate enough to do so. I hope that all can make the move.
After the Kiev Pogrom—considered one of the worst in Jewish history—which started in April of 1881 and lasted until the winter, the Jews decided to leave Russia and Russian-controlled territory in Poland and Lithuania. Many made it to the Land of Israel. Rishon LeZion, Rosh Pina and Zichron Ya’acov were established.
There were very few Arabs in Israel in the 1800s. Joan Peters’s book From Time Immemorial documents that Arabs 0nly came to the land because of the Jewish aliyah. According to Peters, the 15,000 Jews who made up the “First Aliyah” brought in 80,000 Arabs to work on their farms and agricultural enterprises.
In order to overcome persecution in Europe and particularly Russia, Baron Maurice De Hirsch set up the Baron De Hirsch Fund and the Jewish Colonization Association in 1891. My great uncle Joseph Rabinowitz was lucky enough to be one of the 600 Jews selected by Baron De Hirsch to establish a “colony” in America.
Baron De Hirsch purchased 5,300 acres in Cape May County, New Jersey in 1891. This became known as Woodbine. Woodbine was officially incorporated into a borough in 1903. Because Woodbine was primarily a Jewish settlement in America, it was known as the “first self-governing Jewish community since the fall of Jerusalem” in 70 CE.
Joseph Rabinowitz was the great-grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver of Suwalk, Poland. Rabinowitz was born in Dretchen, Poland in 1873. He became a successful businessman in Woodbine, establishing a clothing factory. He was the mayor of Woodbine from 1910 to 1920.
Since Woodbine needed a rabbi and shochet, my great-grandfather Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen of blessed memory was brought over from Poland by Rabinowitz. Rabbi Cohen was the husband of Alta Rabinowitz Cohen, who was the sister of Joseph Rabinowitz.
Because Rabinowitz brought my great-grandparents to the United States, my immediate family was not wiped out in the Holocaust. Many of the descendants of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, however, were murdered by the Nazis. The barn that was burnt to the ground in Jedwabne, Poland on July 10, 1941 by Poles sympathetic to the Nazis contained a number of relatives. All told, 1,600 Jews were burnt alive.
My great-grandfather Rabbi Yehoshua Cohen served as rabbi of the Woodbine community for many years. His wife ran a chicken farm there. My mother Mollie Stern Frager of blessed memory grew up in their household and was greatly influenced by them.
Joseph Rabinowitz’s father Rabbi Leib Rabinowitz made aliyah from Dretchen, Poland in 1910 and died of starvation in Jerusalem in 1917. Joseph Rabinowitz’s brother Chaim Rabinowitz made aliyah after spending a few years in America. He is the author of Nine Generations, which reviews the genealogy of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver and his descendants. He passed away in the 1970s in Israel.
This is an example of one Jewish family. It is illustrative of how we have gotten to where we are in 2023. Many lessons can be learned. The Jewish people are unique. Am Yisrael Chai.
Dr. Joseph Frager is a lifelong activist and physician. He is chairman of Israel advocacy for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, chairman of the executive committee of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim and executive vice president of the Israel Heritage Foundation.