Our newsletters are currently being written by a revolving group of Board members and guest writers drawn from our membership list. We encourage readers who wish to submit prospective future newsletters to do so. Topics can range from neighborhoods, businesses, camps, or community centers and could include family memories or personal experiences you have had in the north Jersey area. Rita Bloomfield Levin, a member of Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey, has written our August 2017 newsletter.
Passaic 360 Degrees, by Rita Bloomfield Levin
The Jewish infrastructure in Passaic was set up more than a century ago. The city was settled in 1679. Three generations of the Bloomfield Family were born in Passaic. Passaic was always Passaic. It is a proud city, 3 sq. miles in size, surrounded by Clifton on 3 sides, an amalgamation of people from all over the world. All were welcome.
Although some of the Jewish population has migrated to the surrounding area, their presence has always remained in Passaic. No one really “flew the coop;” and, because there was this Jewish infrastructure, the Jewish population grew and grew and is still growing, a testament to a town whose ethnic diversity is the better for it.
2017- Upon Revisiting Passaic –
Just recently I received an invitation to a new kosher restaurant/catering hall in lower Passaic at 220 Passaic Street. It was an area that was not exactly the place where I would expect to find this type of business.
Somehow prior to this invite, I had found my dad’s long ago business card with a Passaic Street address. He was the general manager for Stark & Sons Furniture Store located at 158 Passaic Street. As we approached the facility we drove a block further and found a seemingly dilapidated building that had at one time served as the former furniture store.
We noticed that the catering hall was in a very desolate, dilapidated area. One side of the parking lot faced the new restaurant and directly across from that lot was an old factory in shambles with broken window panes and a look that could serve as a backdrop for a horror movie.
The interior of the new restaurant was truly unique and trendy. It was a full circle in distance from my family’s roots in Passaic. Within 5 blocks of 220 Passaic St. could be found the Bloomfield history in Passaic. My dad was born two minutes/2 blocks away on Second Street, corner of Market, above a saloon or so I was told. It was called the Dundee area. Nearby was B’nai Jacob Synagogue where my grandparents had been founders and members. My dad and his brothers were b’nai-mitzvot there. Right around the corner was 97 Jefferson Street, my grandparents’ 2- family home (now known as a duplex) and sandwiched between their home and the shul was my grandfather’s mattress spring business, alternatively called ‘the Shop’ or ‘the Factory on Ann Street’.
My parents lived at 181 Madison Street, also a few blocks from my grandparents’ home and up the block from ‘Beth Israel Hospital’ where my brother Allen and I were born. That street backed up to Temple Emmanuel where I went to Sunday school and was later confirmed. The rabbi was Max Zucker and the cantor was Isadore Singer. The cantor now resides in Fort Lee and attends ‘Young Israel’ where my son Edward belongs.
I went to Lafayette, Public School No. 6, and later to Public School No. 12. On parents’ visiting night, what a surprise it was that the keyboard teacher recognized my father and showed us the desk where he sat.
The now burgeoning Passaic Jewish Community is in unique areas of town and way beyond the area where the 220 Passaic Street Great Falls Bistro/Catering Hall is located. It may well become the hot spot of the future. Time will tell. If an invitation to attend a simcha in this part of town is available, by all means have a fun time and let me know your thoughts on the location. It was once a thriving mecca of business opportunities and may well become one once again if great entrepreneurship can be found.
Each area of Passaic has Jewish footprints. Monroe Street was ‘Karpen’s’ for Jewish delicacies such as the barrels of sauerkraut and pickles that made my mouth water just by entering the store.
There was the real Main Avenue downtown with stores such as Wechler’s, The Strand Shop, The Fair, Abbott’s, Ginsberg’s, Krone’s, etc. The railroad track snaked through the center of town. Let’s remember the movie theaters, the ‘Montauk’, and the ‘Central’. Lexington Avenue too had additional stores that once thrived.
The YM-YWHA was located on Washington Place, where everyone gathered for clubs (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts), meetings, festivals, and shows. I played my accordion there numerous times on various ‘amateur nights’. My dad, Joseph M. Bloomfield, was one of the editors of the ‘Y’ bulletin. He happened to also run for Commissioner and later for the Board of Education.
Passaic Park, where I grew up, has been an all-time great mixture of diverse people. I am proud to say that Passaic is and will always be my roots.
Rita Levin, member of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey
The top left picture is of the Passaic YM/YWHA and the top right is of Rita Bloomfield playing the accordion.
The top left picture is my confirmation class from Temple Emmanuel in Passaic. Top Row, L-R: Ronnie Feintuch, Linda Mettle, Barbara Sabin, ?, Barbara Green, Arlene Raff, Deborah ?, ?, Andrea ?. Middle Row, L-R: Ellen Gutwell, Diane ?, Rita Bloomfield, Thelma Bock, ?, ?, Debbie Simon, ?, ?. Front Row, L-R: Rosalie Schaffer, ?, Lois Locker, Hortense Cohen, Linda Blitzer, Rosalie Friedman, Muriel Rosen, Elaine Ehrenfeld, Eileen [Barbara] Katz.
The top right picture is Carol Frank’s Sweet Sixteen party on High Street in Passaic. First row, L-R: Lois Kolber, Carol Frank, ?, Shirley Meltzer, Loretta Turesky. Second row, L-R: ?, Rita Bloomfield Levin, ?, ?, Lita Weintraub, Third row, L-R : no identifications. Incidentally, Carol Frank’s father owned a fur store on Broadway in Passaic.
The top left was our beloved Central movie theater in Passaic. The top right shows the train puffing down Main Street in Passaic.