(No. 2/2003 - August 2003)
Editor: Fran Bock
Woodbine, New Jersey:
A Restoration of History
by Joan Breslow
Located about 30 minutes inland from Atlantic City, the town of Woodbine was originally settled by immigrants from Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It was funded by the Baron de Hirsch Fund, which purchased 5300 acres in Cape May County for $37,500 in 1891. While other towns in New Jersey were established by Jews or had large Jewish populations, Woodbine was unique due to its all-Jewish governing body.
The New Jersey legislature amended its laws to allow Jews to do business on Sunday, since their sabbath was on Saturday. Non-Jewish establishments had to continue to observe Sunday as the sabbath and a non-working day.
Immigrants from the NY and other eastern cities were screened to go to Woodbine to develop an agricultural settlement. The landscape consisted of swamp and scrub, which had to be cleared before any town development could begin. All this was accomplished by the immigrants. Woodbine was designed and originally controlled into the early 1900's by the NY-based Fund. The Baron's philosophy was for the immigrants "return to the soil". He did not believe in welfare but wanted to create a haven for immigrants and other settlers, some from the slums of New York. The Fund issued mortgages to the immigrants to build their barns and homes. The Baron de Hirsch Agricultural School was established and originally supervised by Dr. Hirsch Sabsovich. Coursework involved instruction in farming, sciences, and other curriculum. It was the first secondary agricultural school in the United States. Poor soil conditions ultimately led to a shift from farming to light industry, such as clothing and tires.
The first public structure built was a bath house. Then construction of the orthodox-style Woodbine Brotherhood Synagogue was begun in 1893, and consecrated in 1896. The building is brick, made and built locally and paid for by the immigrants, themselves. The synagogue was recently purchased by Michael Azeez, who grew up in Woodbine. It has been completely restored to its original form, inside and out. The old Torah and prayer books from Europe were found and returned to the shul. The building is listed on the National Historic Registry.
A museum is now located in the basement, and the town history is displayed in a "time-line" format, with the museum floor depicting the street layout of the town. It is open to the public and admission is free.
Some notables from Woodbine were Dr. Gregory Pincus, the developer of the birth control pill, and Jacob G. Lipman, soil chemist and dean of Rutgers Agricultural School for 29 years. Recently a Chair at the University was named in his honor. Sam Azeez, father of Michael, developed the first real-time computer quotation system used in stock markets.
The Woodbine Jewish population is almost non-existent today.
For museum hours and other information, you can visit the web site, www.thesam.org, or call 609-861-5355.
Copyright © 2002 Belarus SIG and Joan W. Breslow
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