In the early 1880s, 43 Russian Jewish families fleeing persecution settled in a small, rural section of southern New Jersey. They established farms, businesses, synagogues and homes.
Their communities, including in Alliance, N.J., have largely been relegated to history. Stockton University’s Alliance Heritage Center in Galloway, N.J., aims to change that.
The center has received several grants, most recently $100,000 from the Mellon Foundation, announced on Aug. 16. The center is using the funds to digitize its collections and to create traveling exhibitions, which tell the story of the defunct Jewish farming community.
“We want to take the next step beyond the digital museum,” Tom Kinsella, director of the Alliance Heritage Center, stated in a release.
“What the Mellon Foundation grant is going to allow us to do is bring a lot more students into the process of researching Alliance’s history,” added Kinsella, who also directs the university’s South Jersey Culture and History Center. “They are going to gain research, writing, editing and exhibition skills as they work with this material.”
The local historian Patricia Chappine, an adjunct history professor at the university, is already working on the project.
Chappine told JNS that the story of Jewish agriculture and of the Alliance colony is “underrepresented and under-told.” It’s important to change that, she said.
In addition to using the grant monies for digital upgrades, a decades-old exhibit at the Alliance “chapel” on the colony site is to be revamped significantly and updated, according to Chappine.
High school students from the area, in Salem County, visit the site. “It will be great to have a revamped exhibit to show them,” she said.
The center also hopes that new exhibitions will demonstrate that every immigrant community “changes the fabric of the area,” and by learning about Jews who lived in Alliance, people will “make the connection with their own stories,” said Chappine.
Last February, the center received a $24,500 New Jersey Historical Commission grant to digitize records in its archives. The grant was part of an initiative focused on “underrepresented narratives in New Jersey history” ahead of the 250th anniversary of America in 2026.
Digitization is well underway, and the public can already access many of the items online, Chappine said. The collection includes photos, land deeds and personal histories, as well as letters and writings of Moses Bayuk, a rabbi and founding colony member. The rabbi descended from the 18th-century rabbinic luminary the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, or the GRA) and counted Leo Tolstoy a friend, per a family tree in the archives.
The collection also contains correspondences from the Alliance Land Trust, which initially loaned the money that the farmers used to buy the land and establish the community.
One letter, from around 1903, demands that the Alliance colonists pay past due loans with “all unpaid interest.”
“As your farms have greatly enhanced in value, and as you are all making a good living, your delay in complying with our demands and your failure to appreciate the consideration which we have shown you for so many years, have decided us to insist on the terms of the mortgages being carried out,” per the letter.
By the 1960s, the Jewish community in Alliance had dwindled significantly. The last survivor of the Alliance community, Lillian Greenblatt Braun, died in 2015. In recent years, Bayuk’s great-great grandson, William Levin, has attempted to revive the farming traditions of Alliance under the auspices of Alliance Community Reboot.