The premiere screening of “Alliance,” a new documentary about the first successful Jewish farming colony in the United States, will be held at Stockton University at 12:30 April 16.
It’s an improbable story.
The film shares the stories of the journey of 43 immigrant families from tyrannical Russia to the desolate fields of southern New Jersey in 1882. Over the next few decades, hundreds of other immigrant families joined the settlers. By 1908, the colony had grown to 1,000 people and developed into several neighboring villages.
The documentary details the settlers, who were forbidden to own land in the old country and thus knew nothing of farming when they arrived in the U.S.
But with the business acumen of carpenters, grocers, tailors and salesmen and a strong commitment to education and culture, the expanding group of refugees was able to claim the land, harness its bounty and create a legacy that has been reborn six generations later.
The feature-length film is the directorial debut of Susan Donnelly, a descendant of one of the founding families of the Alliance Colony in Pittsgrove Township.
Donnelly is memorializing the story of her ancestors on the heels of an Alliance Colony resurgence. A new nonprofit, Alliance Community Reboot, is dedicated to rebuilding a Jewish farm-based community in the original area of Alliance.
“My great-great grandfather was one of these original settlers who arrived on America’s shores in 1882 with no idea what awaited him but certain that this was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
“I am grateful to be able to share the settlers’ stories as told by Alliance descendants and scholars. I am especially thrilled that Stockton University has committed to turning a spotlight on the significance and contributions of the Alliance Colony to American history.”
The film’s premiere is accompanied by several events April 16-17, including a Q&A with historians and descendants, a post-screening reception, a descendant “family” dinner, and a bus tour of the Alliance and Woodbine colonies.
The premiere coincides with the release of a new book, “A Farmer’s Daughter: Bluma,” about one of the original settlers, and the launch of a new digital museum by the Alliance Heritage Center at Stockton University.
Thomas Kinsella, director of the Alliance Heritage Center at Stockton University, said the center is dedicated to preserving the history of the Alliance Colony and telling the stories of the families who lived there.
“Our plans for the future are ambitious, and we believe our new digital museum will become a major asset to share the history of Alliance, its surrounding communities, and Jewish farming in the Garden State,’ he said. The film will premiere at Stockton University’s Campus Center Theatre in Galloway Township. A question-and-answer session with Donnelly will follow the movie’s screening, and a 3 p.m. reception with Donnelly and Alliance descendants will follow.