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As It Was: Jews fleeing Russia established Southern Oregon colony

Jewish emigrants fleeing anti-Semitic violence in Russia established the New Odessa farming colony in 1883 near present-day Glendale, Oregon.

They were sent to Oregon by a Ukrainian emigration organization called Am Olan that encouraged Jews to abandon business-oriented lifestyles and resettle as agriculturalists in Palestine or the United States. The idea was to change Jewish stereotypes by returning to agricultural traditions documented in the Torah.

The first group from Am Olan, which translates as “the eternal people,” reached New York in 1882. In September, 34 of them arrived in Portland, Oregon, where they arranged the purchase of 760 acres of heavily wooded land between Wolf and Cow creeks in Southern Oregon’s Douglas County.

Within two years, New Odessa’s population had reached 65. They sold timber for railroad ties and fuel to the Oregon and California Railroad. Seeking the expertise and borrowing the tools of their neighbors, the colonists planted vegetables and wheat for food.

Political and philosophical divisions and a fire that consumed the community hall and library tore New Odessa apart, and by 1887 most colonists were gone. The land returned to the original owners in 1888.

Source: “New Odessa Colony.” The Oregon History Project. Oregon Historical Society, 2006. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. (http://oregonhistoryproject.org/articles/historical-records/new-odessa-colony/#.VIuFYjd0ypo); “A New Odessa Communal Wedding.” As It Was. Jefferson Public Radio, 18 Oct. 2006. Web. 12 Dec. 2014. (http://archive.ijpr.org/Feature.asp?FeatureID=502#).

— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.