Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rachel Calof's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains by Rachel Calof, 1995

"This book was an eye opener for me. To begin with, I did not know that there had been Jewish homesteaders, and, in general, did not know anything about the lives of these pioneers, both Jewish and non-Jewish." L.Kamionkowski from a review on

Although this ninety-page memoir was published in 1995, it was written in Yiddish in 1936 when Rachel Calof was sixty, and found  by a grown daughter around 1980 at which point she had it translated.

Rachel Bella Kahn came to this country in 1894 to meet Abraham Calof, husband-to-be, and moved with him to the Northern Plains, to a homestead in North Dakota where they got married and raised nine children. They suffered through many disasters, but their farm flourished in the later years. In 1917 they left for an easier life in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There are wonderful scenes in Russia before she leaves for America that describe her arranged marriage, her overland trip to Hamburg, the ship’s journey, and her arrival at Ellis Island. But the manuscript is mostly about the very difficult conditions establishing a farm and raising a family in North Dakota. A part of this story which makes for fascinating reading is a description of their lives as practicing Jews.

There has been some dispute about the difference between the original Yiddish manuscript and the edited English version. It has been said that the original was much longer and that it has obviously been heavily edited. The original manuscript is owned by the family and has not been made available to researchers, so it’s impossible to verify what is in the original.  That being said, the pruning may have been judicious.

Published with the manuscript are several essays. An epilogue by her youngest son describes what his parents’ life was like once they gave up the farm and moved to St. Paul. An essay entitled “Jewish Farm Settlements in America’s Heartland” by J. Sanford Rakoon of the University of Missouri - Columbia describes the Jewish farm movement of the late nineteenth-early twentieth century. A third essay entitled, “Rachel Bella Calof’s Life As Collective History” by Elizabeth Jamison of the University of Mexico discusses Rachel Bella Calof as a Jew, as a woman, and as an immigrant farmer’s wife.

There are a few photos as well as explanatory endnotes and an index.

To read more about Jewish farming in America, click here.
To learn about a Jewish agricultural colony that was established in Cotopaxi, Colorado, click here.


The spelling of Calof varied amongst relatives: Kalof, Calof, Calov
Sholom and Charadh Calof
    Abraham Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh; married Rachel Bella Kahn, author
         Minnie Calof - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Hanna Calof - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Moses (Mac) Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel
         Isaac (Jack) Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel
         Bessie (Elizabeth) Calof Breitbord - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Alec Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel
         Celia Calof - daughter of Abraham and Rachel
         Jacob Calof - son of Abraham and Rachel       
        Two granddaughters are mentioned in the forward: Roberta Myers, Johann Smith

    Chaya (Ida) Calof - daughter of Sholom and Charadh
    Savol (Charlie) Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh; married to Faga
        Max, Oscar, Lily Calof - children of Charlie and Faga
    Moses Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh
    Saul Calof - son of Sholom and Charadh
Mordechai Calof, brother of Sholom (?),
     MaierCalof - son of Mordechai; married Doba Zaslavsky
     Leib (John). - son of Mordechai; married Sarah Zaslavsky (sister to Doba)

Molly Shaw – friend, translated the Yiddish
Abraham Greenberg – a neighbor
    Benyomin (Benjamin) Greenberg- his son; postmaster

Belaya Tserkov, Russia
 Charaievka, Russia
In the Northern Plains of the U.S.:
     Devil’s Lake, Ramsey County, Garske, Painted Woods, Burleigh County, North     Dakota

Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society
Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society (JAIAS)
Jewish Agriculturalists’ Aid Society of America (JAAS)


  1. There's an entire branch missing here. Another variation, that being Kalor. Charles (Sevol) and Fannie (Faga) had another son, not mentioned here, Henry John Kalor 1893-1972. My wife's grandfather Henry served in the Army in WW2, this is probably where the V turned into an R.

    1. I only include what I find in the published book, so I'm happy that you've added this information. Rachel Calof's memoir is one of my favorites.