Revised Response Paper 7

What does this document tell us about the original intent(s) that New Odessa’s members had for the community, and in what ways does this information relate to its demise?

Additionally, in what ways did this information change your research?

In this document, the son of one of New Odessa’s founders provides an account of how the community came into existence. He begins by detailing how historical conditions affected decisions at the time. For example, in 1881 pogroms occurred in Odessa and throughout Russia. The victims of this persecution resolved to leave Russia. Some sought to relocate in Palestine while others in America. In any case, their original intent was to find refuge in a safer place.

Am Olam was consequently formed as an organization whose members were determined to adopt a farming lifestyle upon reaching America, reflecting yet another original intent for the community. It sent people to America in two groups. Leon Swett, the father of the author of this document, was treasurer for the second of such groups. Leon guarded the goods and moneys of 400 on the ship in route to America, and equally distributed them on the last day of the voyage. This action in particular perhaps reflects an original intent for New Odessa to be egalitarian, but we cannot assume such with full confidence. Leon Swett joined the remnants of the first group, because his own group dissolved in New York. This new group constituted the original members of New Odessa. Although 90% of them were educated in Russian universities, they still adhered to the original intent of adopting a farming lifestyle. However, not all of them immediately went to the farm: some supported the community by working other jobs instead. We can reason then that farming, their original intent, was not self-subsistent. Moreover, this evidence shows how they were willing to suspend their idealism for pragmatism. After some amount of time passed, all of the members eventually lived on the farm, which reflects a continued commitment to the original intent. While this document does not offer anecdotes that relate to New Odessa’s demise, it corroborates the argument of a scholarly source written by “Davidson and Goodiam”. Namely, New Odessa was too idealistic. Furthermore, this document clarifies how its demise was not due to “neglect” or “lack of appreciation” on the part of its members. Instead, the document suggests that they were troubled by the idea of giving up the farm. Following the disintegration of New Odessa, its members were successful in the different fields they pursued. Likewise, the demise of New Odessa was not due to a lack of ability (recall how 90% of the members attended Russian universities).

In essence, this document tells us that New Odessa was originally intended to be a place of refuge. Its members also belonged to New Olam, an organization that wanted to adopt the life of a farmer upon reaching America. However, this sense of idealism posed problems for the community and was perhaps its own demise. The members of the community, nevertheless, were reluctant to leave the communal farm. Most telling, however, is that some members worked a laundry business that operated on a communal basis after leaving New Odessa. It seems the document uses this evidence to suggest that, despite its demise, members of New Odessa were still committed to its original intents.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about this source is that it was my first impression of New Odessa. As I read the anecdote, I was looking for clues as to how New Odessa reflects utopian ideals. Like I indicated earlier, it was clear to me that the community’s founders wanted a better place to live. But I was not satisfied with letting this simple fact be my evidence that New Odessa was a utopian community. As a result, my research going forward was focused on uncovering more concrete evidence.

One of the most challenging aspects I encountered in my research was the lack of research materials available online. However, I was fortunately able to discover more about New Odessa by consulting one of the books reserved for our course in the library. The description of New Odessa in this book had many similarities to Swett’s account, but its differences were fruitful. First, it indicated that socialist ideals were reflected in New Odessa’s constitution. While I was unable to locate the community’s constitution, I was satisfied that there was evidence to support my earlier suggestion that New Odessa’s founders held egalitarian ideals. Egalitarianism is certainly a utopian ideal, and the community’s founder preached it accordingly. I was most surprised in my later research about the community’s founder, William Frey. First, because the exhibit source of Theodore Swett did not mention Frey. I found that incredibly odd. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate much background information about William Frey. But I was able to confirm that his positivist philosophy served a constant presence in the community. Actually, I discovered several other sources that cited his idealism as a contributing factor to the community’s demise. In any case, I was able to connect the differences between sources to similarities.

New Odessa is a utopian community with a scarce amount of background literature. At first I struggled to find evidence that pointed to its utopian qualities. Interestingly, my further research introduced me to evidence, which initially seemed controversial to earlier accounts. But as I continued my research, I was able to resolve the differences between accounts by realizing that they were explaining similar utopian ideals, just in different manners. Ultimately, in my search for utopian facets, I discovered I needed multiple accounts in order to confirm the validity of my first exhibit source.

Works Cited

Fogarty, Robert. “New Odessa.” In Dictionary of American Communal and Utopian History. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Swett, Theodore. New Odessa Colony. Cincinnati: Jewish Institute of Religion at Hebrew Union College, 1958.