Jewish Newark

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Temple B’nai Abraham (built 1924), now Deliverance Temple, Copyright Jim.henderson

Once upon a time, Newark had a large, vibrant, diverse, thriving Jewish community. It was home to the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with a 70,000-strong population. There were countless synagogues, almost 100 cemeteries, many religious schools (for all ages), a newspaper, kosher bakeries and restaurants, charities, and so much more. Newark’s largest hospital, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, was also built under the community’s auspices.

As many of you may know, the most famous Jewish Newarker is Philip Roth, who has written about the city’s Jewish community as it was at mid-century, before urban blight, a high crime rate, and white flight left mostly ghosts in its wake. Sadly, the community fell into shambles after the Newark Riots of July 1967, and only one active synagogue is left. The cemeteries are in a tragic state of disrepair, and are frequent targets of vandalism.

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High Street YM–YWHA, Source Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest

From 1921–43, there was a daily newspaper, The Newark Jewish Chronicle. Revenue fell during WWII, and publisher Anton Kaufman (who was blind) sold his cemetery plot to keep the paper afloat. On the first day of 1943, he jumped to his death from an eighth-story hotel room, and the final issue came out a week later. It had been the final Jewish newspaper left in Newark.

By mid-century, most Jewish Newarkers lived in Weequahic in the South Ward. Weequahic means “head of the cove” in Lenni–Lenape. Philip Roth has written extensively about Jewish Weequahic as it was, painting a picture of a beautiful, sadly bygone community. Though the Newark Riots were focused in the Central Ward, those events frightened people all across Newark, and led to much white flight.

Today, most of the few hundred Jewish Newarkers left are Russian immigrants who came in the 1970s, and mostly live in Ivy Hill.

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Pennington Mansion, 1901, original home of Beth Israel Hospital, Source Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest

The first documented Jewish Newarker was German immigrant Louis Trier, who arrived in 1844. The next year, his son Abraham became Newark’s first known Jewish birth. A few years later, B’nai Jeshurun became the first Newark synagogue. Dressmaker Hester Goldstein was said to be the first female Jewish Newarker to own her own business, listed in the 1853–54 directory.

Most of the early Jewish Newarkers came from Germany and Bohemia, and frequently worked as peddlers till they had enough money to open their own stores. By 1855, there were 200 families, and many of their stores dotted the main streets. In the 1880s, with a huge wave of immigration from the Pale of Settlement (thanks to the bloody pogroms of Tsar Aleksandr III’s reign), the city’s Jewish population swelled even more.

Once these immigrants became more affluent, they left their working-class roots behind and moved to more bourgeois areas like Weequahic.

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Oheb Shalom/Prince Street Synagogue (built 1860), Newark’s oldest remaining synagogue. The congregation has since relocated, and the building is used as an environmental centre

In 1933, Newark’s first and only Jewish mayor to date, Mayer Ellenstein, was elected. That same year, Weequahic High School opened. By this point, Newark’s population had reached 445,000, with at least 70,000 Jewish residents. Following WWII, many African–Americans began moving to the city, and in response, many longtime Newarkers left for suburbia. By the time of the Newark Riots in 1967, the Jewish population was very paltry, and those few who’d remained soon left as well.

Today, mostly only ghosts are left.

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Jewish Museum of New Jersey, formerly Ahavas Sholom, Copyright Peter Greenberg

My characters settle in Newark after their immigration to the U.S. in November 1948. The distant relatives of sisters Eszter and Mirjam, who made all of their immigration possible, have lived in the West Ward of Newark for many years, so it makes sense to live in the same city. Some of my interconnected characters in other books also live in Newark.

Sources consulted:

“Newark,” Helen Lippman, Hadassah magazine, April/May 2015
“Newark – Remembering a Forgotten Jewish Community,” Jay Levinson, The Jewish Magazine, May 2007
List of Rutgers research guides
“Jewish Newark’s Urban Pioneers Rest Uneasily; The Dead, Left Behind in the Suburban Diaspora, Lay Amid a Landscape of Ravaged Monuments,” Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, 15 October 2000
“City of Graveyards: The Demise of Jewish Newark,” Jason Maoz, JewishPress.com, 24 March 2010 (updated 14 November 2011)
“For One Day, Newark’s Jews Return To Mourn,” Anthony Weiss, The Forward, 8 October 2008
Old Newark
Newarkology
“Long mute, photos tell tales of Newark roots,” Robert Wiener, The New Jersey Jewish News 13 August 2009
Newark Religion, Old Newark

Ivy Hill Park, Newark

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All photos featured herein are used solely to illustrate the subject, and are consistent with fair use doctrine. It’s really hard to find vintage, public domain photographs of the park!

Once upon a time, Newark was a lovely, safe, beautiful city, not regarded as a run-down, dangerous crime pit. Ivy Hill Park was part of this beautiful, idyllic landscape.

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Source

Ivy Hill was part of South Orange Township (later renamed Maplewood) until 1890, when the city of Newark bought the land. In 1926, Newark annexed another 110 acres. The park itself was purchased from Newark by the Essex County Parks Commission in 1927. There was a clear, strong need for recreation in light of the expanding population.

The 18.86-acre park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm, like almost every other Essex County park created since the 1890s. The acreage increased slightly over the years, and reached its final size of 18.96 acres in 1938. The Works Progress Administration (a New Deal program) was responsible for many improvements and developments during those Depression years.

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Source

The park features a concert area; fields for football, soccer, softball, and hardball; tennis courts; a basketball court; a wading pool; a playground; and plenty of green spaces for walking and picnicking. It abuts Seton Hall University, though there’s a rarely-opened chain-link fence separating them. Regardless, many students frequently use the park. In exchange, Seton Hall is required to lease an acre of their tennis courts to Essex County.

In September 1951, Ivy Hill broke ground on a new apartment complex, and in November 1952, tenants began moving in. Many Seton Hall students, immigrants, and retirees live here. The apartments, dubbed “Little United Nations” by residents, hold over 10,000 people.

Today, Ivy Hill is home to Newark’s last active Jewish community, though it’s far different from the golden age of Jewish Newark. More about that tomorrow.

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Source; Credit Assie Bangura

My characters who settle in Newark after the war often take their children to play in Ivy Hill Park, and the distant relatives of Eszter and Mirjam who made all of their immigration possible live a stone’s throw from the park, in the Vailsburg section of the West Ward. More about Vailsburg on the V day!

My 2017 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring places and things from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and its sequels (each following a different group of characters), Sweet Miracles and Rebuilding the RemnantsBranches in turn begins with three of the characters from The Natural Splash of a Living Being escaping a death march, while Splash continues without them.

Branches is set in locales including Abony, Budapest, Florence, Paris, Béziers, Montpellier, and NantesSweet Miracles follows the characters who immigrate to Newark in November 1948 (the name taken from the mousery and rabbitry one of the couples starts), and Remnants follows the characters who immigrate to Israel after the British are finally gone.

You’ll learn about topics like:

Dohány Utca Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Budapest and one of the largest in the world, which Eichmann used as his headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

Jewish Newark, which is now sadly just a fading memory. In the mid-twentieth century, Newark had the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with countless synagogues, schools, bakeries, cemeteries, and other communal institutions.

Machal, the all-volunteer fighting force from abroad which helped Israel to win its War of Independence.

La Samaritaine, a historic department store in Paris.

Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist–Zionist youth group which supported a binational state. (Contrary to what many people on the modern-day Left believe, it’s very possible to be both a Socialist and Zionist without any conflicts!)

Vailsburg, a Newark neighborhood which now has a much different character than it did at mid-century. It includes a former movie palace which today serves as a church.

Košice, Slovakia, the hometown of my character Artur Sklar and Slovakia’s next-largest city. It was also the first European settlement to get a coat of arms.

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, Florence’s oldest hospital, founded by the father of Dante’s love Beatrice.

Basilica di Santa Croce, an impressive complex that’s so more than just a church. It contains Dante’s empty tomb, waiting for Ravenna to return his bones already.

Neology, a uniquely Hungarian denomination that’s akin to Liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the breathtaking Great Synagogue of Florence, which was saved from Nazi destruction in 1944 by brave members of the Italian Resistance. They managed to diffuse almost all of the explosives left by the retreating occupiers.

University of Montpellier, one of the oldest universities in the world, and home to the world’s oldest med school still in operation.

Pasarét, a Bauhaus neighborhood on the Buda side of Budapest.

Gellért Hill, a beautiful, storied hill on the Buda side, with lovely outlooks of the entire city.

Lower Galilee, a beautiful, peaceful region I hope to someday live in, far from the maddening rush of the big cities, and with wonderful interfaith relations. You’ll learn the story behind the most bizarre grave I’ve ever seen!

Several letters have two or three topics, but I kept everything within my usual average of 400–800 words. All non-public domain photographs are properly credited. Since I’ve been to the Lower Galilee, many of those photographs are my own work.

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My names blog will feature (mostly) names from Greek mythology. Since the Greek alphabet doesn’t have certain letters, I found mythological names from other cultures for those days. In the interest of fairness, I always do both a female and male name on each day.