We have reached December, the last month of the secular year. To the Society this is an accomplishment.
December brings us Hanukkah, the post-Biblical holiday referred to as the “Feast of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication.” It commemorates the triumph of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek enemy in 165 B.C.E. and the rededication of the Temple that had been defiled. Since the days of Judas Maccabeus, Hanukkah has been celebrated for eight days as a reminder of the miracle of the cruse of oil that burned for eight days instead of one. Hanukkah in Jewish life represents the ever recurring attempts to destroy Judaism and the push-back fight for freedom.
This holiday has us dreaming, dreaming that we find another Judas Maccabeus who might find us a cache of oil (green) in order to light our way, so that we may continue our mission. In this we are not alone. There are many out there seeking green oil in order to continue their mission. Our dream is that we have sufficient light to continue our mission. Our resources are limited since we have little “exposure” and all we can offer is the collection and preservation of our Jewish heritage in order that our children and their children know from whence they came.
Our thanks to Richard Polton for the contribution of a computer. We hope to begin cataloging our archives by January. Thanks to the Historic Preservation Commission of Paterson we have received a $500 grant to purchase equipment that will store some of our records until we can afford the services of an archivist. We need someone to transcribe and convert oral histories from cassettes to cd’s and someone with dark-room
experience to enhance and restore old photos. We need volunteers who can translate written Yiddish and genealogists who have time to research names in order to find where people are buried. Not all cemeteries have offices or organizational records that are legible or available. When our own David Wilson works our lone computer and posts Facebook pages, no one has access to the computer at our location. This is why we need more than one computer.
I believe I was born to fulfill the mission that was begun by Sylvia Firschein with Max Atkins, Regina Brendzel, Carol Cassel, Lynn Corn, Fran Dorman, Evelyn Hochman, Reeva Isaacs, Belle Krass, Belle Lewis, Jeanne Peck, Frank Pinchak and myself. Now, after 30 years we are in need of a new and dynamic leader. My family and friends have been very supportive of me. I receive compliments and words of praise but these do not fund our endeavor. My time here is limited. Only He and time will tell. After the others moved away or passed away, I was left to pick up the remnants and carry on since I remained in the community.
Today, we have 6 part-time volunteers that help to keep the fires burning. Our dedication has shifted from Paterson to include the ever-growing Jewish communities of Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties. We hope to have a new Board of Trustees up and running by January. In the past, the Jewish Standard and The Record gave us exposure. In the words of Abba Eban: “Whatever we know of Hebrew origins is derived from the testimony which the Jewish people has recorded about itself.” If you research early North Jersey history prior to Nathan Barnert’s biography you will find little or no reference to a Jewish presence in the area. Jewish Federation is seeking display cases if anyone wishes to donate them so that they can set up a display of items from our artifacts.
The Clifton-Passaic Jewish Community Center has closed and Jewish Federation of North Jersey has
merged with BergenCounty and is now Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. The YM/YWHA of Wayne is now part of the YMCA of Wayne. Several congregations have closed, moved or merged with other organizations and the Society has been the recipient of some of their records.
If anyone can volunteer time, we are at the Barnert Medical Complex (address above) Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 am to 3 pm, except holidays. My task has become overwhelming even with our part-time volunteers .We have been inundated with requests for information from around the world and some are more than one year old. There are times that I feel like a ghoul when I read an obituary of a once active Jewish individual. I try to contact the family in the hope of averting their discarding family and other Jewish records and treasures that will enrich ours.
The Paterson Museum has been very generous to display Society memorabilia for their visitors and we are grateful to Jack DeStefano and Bruce Balistrieri for displaying them. Someone out there at least recognizes our existence! We are attempting to set up a display area here at the Barnert Medical Center to attract people to our offices. Visitors are often amazed when they see what we have so far collected. Recently Sharon and Larry Frankel came in. Larry was happily surprised to see his grandmother, Hettie Monto seated in a group photo of the HIAS League. He also found a picture of himself at Camp Veritans from 1952 when he was only 11 years old. Sharon, in turn, found a picture of her parents, Grover and Fay Novack at a Carroll Street reunion. So, you too, come in and find yourself at the Jewish Historical Society!!!!
Please do not trash or shred anything relative to our Jewish communities. This has been done too often in the past when someone moves away or passes away. Please allow us the final decision of what should be saved and what should be discarded. People do not realize what is still out there and if you know anyone who has items please refer us to them or contact us and we will contact them. We prefer original items but accept photo copies in good condition. We also collect insignificant business / professional cards. Recently we received a request for any photographs of Jacob Fabian that anyone may have. Another request has been received looking for the family of David Kantor and Beryl and Breine Tonelson. Beryl Tonelson may have served as cantor in a Paterson synagogue. Can anyone help these people?
This Newsletter concludes the year 2011. Hopefully 2012 will bring with it more uplifting news. The Jewish communities of North Jersey are our future. YOU are who we need to rely upon, to preserve our past. Please do not let us down. We have no intention of building a new edifice to contain our collection but are willing to renovate any offered space. We wish to expand and make accessible what is available, for you and your children to see, use and enjoy what has thus far been accomplished.
Have you checked your closets lately?
Jerry Nathans, President