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Home on the Range

Eytan Kobre

When people ask a heimish guy like Refoel Franklin what he’s doing on a farm in upstate New York, he doesn’t even get the question. “Why would anyone want to live in the city, when you can be out here in G-d’s country?” he asks in wonder. But it’s not like he’s living in isolation (although he did once spend a year living alone in a log cabin in the Montana hills): His slaughterhouse and dairy farm produce the only chicken and milk products some rebbes will eat.

Monday, October 06, 2014

I motored many a mile through the rolling farmlands of Bethel, New York,just a half-mile from Woodstock (which supposedly defined a generation, but is now an answer to a trivia question) in search of the Franklin farmstead and home of Pelleh Poultry. Bearing left onto Happy Avenue (no kidding!) I arrive at number 522 to find Refoel Franklin — the man whose slaughterhouse and farm produce the only chicken and milk products some rebbes will eat. Decked out in work clothes, his face framed by a cap and long beard, he’s hard at work sharpening a chain saw on the back of his pickup truck. My first question is the most obvious one, considering how long it took to get out here: “What are you doing here?” Refoel turns the question right around, asking “Where do you live?” When I reply, “Far Rockaway,” Refoel doesn’t miss a beat: “So what are you doing there? You know, we give tours, sometimes for heimishe chevreh in Yiddish. I tell them about the soil, about why we spread manure, we give milking demonstrations, we explain what we do here. “So this chassidishe Yid from Williamsburg enjoyed the tour very much, but when it was over he said to me, ‘Ich farshtai nisht ein zach. Farvus hut ihr oisgevelt aza mudneh parnussah [There’s one thing I don’t understand, why did you choose such a strange livelihood?]’ I asked him in Yiddish, ‘And what do you do?’ He says he’s a building manager in the Bronx. I said, ‘I chose a strange livelihood? You go around in the Bronx among half-dressed goyim and filthy air, and I’m out here with the Creator’s wonders of nature. What’s so strange?’ All he could say was, ‘You’re right, but that’s where I make my living.’ So I said, ‘Nu, and I make my living here.’ ” 

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