Vailsburg, Newark

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Former Sacred Heart Church (not to be confused with Newark’s Sacred Heart Cathedral)

Vailsburg is in the West Ward, on a hill. It began life as an independent municipality, and was incorporated as a borough on 28 March 1894. Vailsburg was annexed by Newark on 1 January 1905, based on the results of a special election on 12 April 1904.

It’s named for Dr. Merit H. Cash Vail, a politician, very important landowner, and strong advocate for an independent municipality.

Vailsburg was the final independent suburb annexed to the ever-expanding Newark. To try to avoid this fate, residents had suggested it as one of the municipalities to form a Greater Orange in the mid-1890s. Vailsburg ultimately lost its independence, but Newark’s mayor did fail to annex Kearny, East Orange, Belleville, and Harrison. Vailsburg is physically separated from the rest of the city by the Garden State Parkway’s trench.

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Newark Gospel Tabernacle, originally Stanley Theater

Though contemporary Vailsburg is mostly home to immigrants from Nigeria and other parts of Africa, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, and the West Indies, it had a very large community of Ukrainians, Italians, Irish, and Germans before the disastrous Newark Riots of July 1967. It’s overly simplistic to blame the riots for chasing out almost all of Newark’s old guard demographics, but those riots were the death knell for communities already dispersed by white flight and suburban migration.

Some parts of Vailsburg still have a bit of a suburban feel, though there are also abandoned buildings and other signs of urban decay. South Orange Avenue, the main drag, got a much-needed makeover at the dawn of the new millennium, and now a lot of small, independent businesses are there.

Many Vailsburg houses were built from 1945–47, in Dutch Colonial and Victorian style.

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St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church; Source; used to illustrate subject under Fair Use doctrine

The first documented Ukrainians arrived in Newark in 1899, and by 1905, there were enough to merit Ukrainian-language advertising from the Newark Public Library. In March 1907, the Church of St. John the Baptist was founded on Court Street, as a storefront church. Besides the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish, there were also Ukrainian Orthodox and Protestant parishes.

In 1925, they moved to Morton Street, where they stayed till the cramped church was demolished in 1960. From 1963–65, a new church was built on 719 Sanford Avenue.

In 1910, parishioners created an evening school for their children, and in 1939, Basilican nuns created a K–8 dayschool. In 1953, the school moved from Morton Street to Sanford Avenue, ahead of the church relocation.

Vailsburg Park

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Vailsburg Park began construction in 1917, and was completed in the late 1920s. Like Ivy Hill Park, it was also designed by the Olmsted Brothers. The park was originally an Electric Park, an amusement park found in dozens of cities starting in the late 1890s. Most closed by 1917, though a few remained in existence much longer.

Vailsburg residents thought it disturbed the peace, and waged a campaign to convert it into a park. There was also a velodrome across from the park, built in the early 20th century but taken down in the late 1920s.

During WWI and WWII, the Army used the park for recruiting, training, and embarking. Then, in 1952, they took away two softball diamonds for an anti-aircraft gun site in a portion of the park they leased. They left the park in 1960.

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Inside the former Stanley Theater; Source; Use consistent with Fair Use doctrine

The Stanley-Fabian theatre chain built a second Newark theatre in 1927. The flagship was on Branford Place (since razed), and the second one was on South Orange Avenue. It was a grand movie palace, with a Spanish-themed auditorium. Patrons went through three chambers, each more impressive than the next, on their way to the actual theatre. There were 1,200 seats, and ushers wore red velvet uniforms.

In the 1950s, it was bought by an Italian–American group and became Casa Italiana. Then, in 1989–90, it was sold for a million dollars. Now it’s home to the Newark Gospel Tabernacle, and is Newark’s best-preserved movie palace.

Vailsburg bank

My characters initially live in Vailsburg upon their November 1948 immigration, though later move to other parts of the West Ward. Serena Fine (née Szerén Halpert), Eszter and Mirjam’s first-cousin twice-removed, and her family are settled in Vailsburg. This distant cousin they never met made all of their immigration possible.

Sources consulted:

Stanley Theater/Newark Gospel Tabernacle (Newark History)
South Orange Avenue: Part I (Newark History)
Vailsburg Park (Essex County Parks)
“Urban Mythology; The Newark Dream,” Terry Golway, The New York Times, 14 November 2004
St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church (Newark History)

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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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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.