I recently came across some interesting information about
the Kolonyes in David E. Fishman's "Russia's First Modern Jews: The Jews of
Shklov" (New York University Press, New York, 1995)."
On p. 123:
"In 1806, acute poverty led a group of thirty-six families
from the region [of Shklov] to apply for resettlement to agricultural colonies
in New Russia. Less than a year later, the number of applicants for resettlement
from the Mogiliev province mushroomed to 338 families (or 1,955 souls) and then
to 600 families (approximately 3,600 souls). Most of the applicants were rural
Jews who were expelled from the countryside, and not inhabitants of cities and
towns such as Shklov. But they stressed in their petition to Tsarist officials
that the urban Jewish communities in their province were themselves
impoverished, and had proven incapable of absorbing migrants."
" The Galician Maskil Joseph Perl referred to the noble
Jews of Shklov in his epistolary novella "Bohen tsadik" (The Test of the
Righteous; Prague, 1838), a fantastic exposť of the foibles of all classes and
sectors of East European Jewish society. The book's traveling protagonist,
Ovadiah b. Petahia, found only one truly righteous figure in all his journeys --
a Jewish farmer from the Mogilev province who had settled on one of the Jewish
agricultural colonies in New Russia [i.e., the Ukraine]. A disciple of the Vilna
Gaon, he plowed the field by day and studied Torah at night. The farmer had
settled as a member of the group headed by the Shklov merchant Nahum
Finkelstein, who was depicted by Perl as a glorious servant of his people,
dedicated to their economic rejuvenation. In the seamy universe of "Bohen Tsadik,"
the only righteous Jews were from Shklov."