The Reactivation of NEHFES
Following the decline of the Chesterfield-area Jewish community in the 1930s, the synagogue continued to be open on high holidays into the 1950s, but was eventually abandoned and was destroyed by arson in 1975.
In the mid-1980s the loving descendants of some of the original NEHFES families decided to memorialize the former synagogue site, and a handsome Mt. Rushmore granite monument was dedicated at a September 28, 1986, ceremony in conjunction with the Town of Montville’s Bicentennial. Cantor Arthur S. Koret of the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford beautifully chanted the traditional memorial prayer “Ayl Moly Rachamim,” and Bernard Wax, Director of the American Jewish Historical Society, and Jack Shanahan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Historical Commission, spoke in support of the commemorative monument and its history.
In 2006, with the help of Attorney Karl Fleischmann of Hartford, 19 loyal descendants legally reactivated NEHFES as a (501)(c)(3) not-for-profit religious organization in the State of Connecticut. Membership contributions were used to research and nominate the site, which in 2007 was designated Connecticut’s 24th State Archaeological Preserve and in 2012 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (These links open in a new page.) The historic site includes not only the remains of the synagogue, but also extensive remains of the NEHFES creamery and the community mikveh (ritual bath).
Ongoing Preservation and Research Efforts
We are dedicated to the protection and preservation of both the physical site and historic legacy of the New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society. Research and preservation of the physical site received a significant boost in the summer of 2013, when Drs. Nicholas F. Bellantoni and Stuart S. Miller of the University of Connecticut conducted a successful three-week excavation of the mikveh. They have announced plans to return to the site in the summer of 2016 to continue the mikveh excavation and to also investigate the 1892 synagogue area.
The current NEHFES also sponsors ongoing research on the history of the Chesterfield Jewish community. Among our most precious artifacts is the early community’s hand-written Yiddish Ledger and Minutes Book. Miriam Leberstein, a renowned New York Yiddishist, recently finished translating the ledger and minutes book, which (along with an introduction prepared by NEHFES President Nancy R. Savin and a forward prepared by Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, an NEHFES descendent and president of Hebrew Union College) we hope to publish soon. Other sources of valuable information include Town of Montville land records, Federal census records, tax records, cemetery records, newspaper articles, and the the Town of Montville’s School District #12 records, all of which are being gradually and diligently entered into one of our latest projects: The NEHFES Russian Jewish Immigrant Families of Chesterfield, CT database, or NEHFES/RJIFCC. We are still working with Marlene Katz Bishow, a NEHFES descendent and member (and the president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington) on this huge undertaking.
Ongoing Search for Descendents
We are eager to identify and welcome more people whose ancestral roots lie in the Chesterfield-Salem-Oakdale Jewish community and in this interesting chapter of American Jewish history. With descendant members in Arizona, California ,Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, and Toronto, Canada, we seem to be charting the “NEHFES Diaspora.”
We hope to identify more NEHFES descendants, their photographs and reminiscences! If you think you may be a descendant of someone from the Chesterfield-area Jewish community and would like to join NEHFES, we would be happy to hear from you. Please complete and submit the form below. We will try to get back to you within 48 hours.