Am Olam

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AM OLAM , Russian Jewish society formed to establish agricultural colonies in the United States. The organization took its name from Perez *Smolenskin's famous Hebrew essay "Am Olam, ("The Eternal People"), and was founded in Odessa in 1881 by two young utopian idealists, Mania Bakl and Moses Herder, who called for the settling of Jews on the land in America in the form of socialist communes. Coming at a time of rising Jewish emigration and interest in national and social renewal such as motivated the Bilu movement as well, their appeal fell on fertile ground and Am Olam chapters were quickly formed in a number of Russian cities. The first contingent of 70 Jewish craftsmen, artisans, and students left for America from Yelizavetgrad in the spring of 1881 and was followed in 1881–82 by additional groups totaling several hundred people from Kiev, Kremenchug, Vilna, and Odessa. Many of the immigrants never proceeded beyond New York, where they eventually drifted apart, but four colonies were ultimately established. The first of these, consisting of 32 families led by Herman *Rosenthal, settled on over 1,000 acres at Sicily Island, Louisiana, in the spring of 1882 but was soon forced to abandon the site as a result of a disastrous Mississippi River flood. Twelve of these families then went with Rosenthal to South Dakota, where they founded a second colony called "Crimea" in September 1882. Another settlement, "Bethlehem of Judea," was established the same year a few miles away. Both lasted until 1885, when debt and other difficulties led to their liquidation.

The longest-lived of the Am Olam colonies, as well as the most intensely communistic, "New Odessa," was established by some 70 persons near Portland, Oregon, in 1882. Led by the socialist Pavel Kaplan and the non-Jewish disciple of Comte's "religion of humanity," William Frey, the settlement flourished for a while until internal bickering and demoralization set in, bringing about its demise in 1887. Some of the survivors, led by Kaplan, sought to reorganize as an urban commune, first in San Francisco and then in New York, but by 1890 they too had disbanded and the last vestiges of Am Olam had ceased to exist. Many of its former members, however, continued to play an active role as individuals within New York's Jewish socialist community.


A. Menes, in: A. Tcherikover, Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Arbeter-Bavegung in di Fareynikte Shtaten, 2 (1945), 203–38; A. Litvin, in: Yidisher Kemfer (Dec. 6, 1935); A. Cahan, Bleter fun Mayn Lebn, 2 (1926), 115–8 (on Mania Bakl), 157–8 (on Pavel Kaplan), 84–87, 123–8 (on William Frey), 296–305 (on New Odessa).

[Hillel Halkin]