December 2012

Hurricane Sandy’s visit and presence gave us time to reflect and reminisce.  She brought us loses of all sorts besides cold and hunger and also the power to persevere.  In the quiet, cold and darkness we were able to reminisce and reflect on other times.  I sat bundled up and alone, unable to do much.  My neighbors had sought other places to stay.  I sometimes read by searchlight and remembered the time when my wife Rita, z”l, and sons David, z”l, and Rob had moved to Wayne over fifty years ago.  It brought back memories of the start of the Jewish community in Wayne that began in 1956 when a small group met and discussed beginning a Jewish center in a town that had very few Jewish people but was just awakening.  A previous Jewish presence was the bar-mitzvah of Hank Schinman on the family property on French Hill Road.  After meeting, the group managed to rent space at the American Legion Hall on Route 23 south behind the Three Vets Drive-In restaurant.  The first religious service was officiated by a rabbi and cantor. Marty Rakitt borrowed a Torah from a synagogue which made it an official service.  After services on Friday nights I would cover the Torah, take it home and return with it the next Friday.  George Rafes, z”l, a local carpenter, built a movable ark to house the Torah when we prayed.  A few years later the congregation was able to negotiate an arrangement with the Preakness Reform Church on Valley Roadwhere Town Hall now stands, and held Friday night services there.  Not long after that land was acquired on Preakness Avenue and the present building was constructed to house Temple Beth Tikvah.

Moving to Wayne was the beginning of another world.  There I became involved in the Historical Commission.  I learned to conduct oral interviews with old-time Wayne residents and served on the Commission until an anti-semitic mayor decided he didn’t want Jewish members on the Commission or on the Township Board.  Conducting oral interviews later proved beneficial when along with Reeva Isaacs and others we conducted interviews recording the disappearing history of a very active, visible Jewish community in Paterson and north Jersey.  At the time we had no choice and recorded those interviews on perishable cassettes.  There are approximately one hundred cassettes and we desperately need them to be digitized before they disappear.  There is so much that needs to be done in order to ensure the preservation of over one hundred-seventy years of Jewish presence in the area before it disappears before our eyes.  Hurricane Sandy taught us to be prepared for the worst.  We hope that the destruction Sandy has accorded us has not destroyed records of our heritage.

This month we celebrate Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. In high spirits, with songs of praise (Hallelu-Yah) on their lips, the Maccabean army approached the sacred city which had been in the hands of the enemy for almost three years. Only a small Syrian force remained…..  The simple peasants, whom the love of freedom had turned into soldiers, now dropped the sword in order to do what they had really been fighting for: cleanse the Temple and re-establish its worship.  They removed every sign of paganism.  They took apart the altar which had been defiled by the pagan sacrifices and put aside its stones.  They erected a new altar in its place.  Exactly three years after the “desolating abomination” had been introduced into the Temple they ground the statue of Zeus-Antiochus into dust, and rededicated the temple to the worship of God.  Beginning with the 25th of Kislev (165 B. C. E.), they celebrated the dedication-feast (Hanukkah) for eight days.      The miracle of the oil, whether we think of it literally or explain it poetically, was not the only miracle of the Maccabean Revolt.  It was equally miraculous that the strong were conquered by the weak, the many by the few, tyranny and greed by the cause of justice and freedom.  The story of Maccabean success, by becoming part also of the Christian tradition, has served as a means of strengthening the heart and the hands of every small group whose will it is to struggle against oppression and injustice.

The above is from the book: A History of the Jews by Solomon Grayzel

The Society also seeks oil as did the Maccabbes, oil to give us light, light to continue our mission, green oil to provide for and to brighten our future.  It has been a rough year financially.  However, we have survived thanks to generous donors and Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.  Our primary income is from the generosity of the Jewish community.  Every week we read of someone prominent, someone who has served the Jewish community, been active and who has passed away.  What happens to their papers and other memorabilia?  Are they trashed?

Our collection is a means to recount the Jewish history of north Jersey and preserve what yet exists. Organizations such as the Jewish Historical Society of north Jersey have become the repositories of our communal history, the keepers of our artifacts, and the tellers of the American Jewish experience. Your generosity is critical to our existence.  We ask your support with a contribution of $18. per individual, $36 per family or any other amount you might generously care to donate.Please take a minute to help us out as we have recently made it easier for our supporters to securely donate tax deductible payments to us via PayPal. The nominal cost to join is only $18. for a single and $36. for a family. Of course, all donations, of any amount, are most welcome and appreciated!

The Society has been collecting Jewish memorabilia for over thirty years.  The memorabilia needs sorting and that is one of our future obligations.  We have been clipping Jewish obituaries and have begun to notice that there are less and less Jewish obituaries in the newspapers.  This means people are moving away, to Florida, out West and to Israel.  This realization makes our mission all the more important to continue what we are doing and to preserve what might very readily disappear.  To make the move easier people tend to discard items they have collected over the years and need not clutter up their new homes.  The Jewish community has been an important and influential part of north Jersey history.  As we disappear from north Jersey, signs of our former presence are also disappearing.  There is a statue of Nathan Barnert standing in front of the Paterson City Hall.  How many people know who he was?  The Barnert Medical Center on Broadway is the only remaining site bearing the Barnert name aside a street bearing the Barnert name.  Our mission is to collect and preserve the records of a Jewish presence in north Jersey.  We need your help in order to accomplish this.  Slowly synagogues are closing or merging.  We seek to preserve their records so that our children and future generations are aware that we were here and what we have accomplished.  We have records from Sons of Israel Cong. In Leonia, Temple Emanuel in Passaic, the YM/YWHA in Passaic, the YM/YWHA in Wayne, the Cong. of New Milford…   All of these institutions have either merged or closed down.

As the year 2012 draws to a close I wish to acknowledge the great job our volunteers are doing. Dorothy Greene, our Vice President / Secretary, has overseen the work of our volunteers.  Dorothy has been sorting through our boxes of archives, finding family and friends and doling out assignments to further preserve and record our presence.  Anne Friedman has been working the computer listing names and answering Facebook comments.  Ina Harris is our artist-in-residence and has been enhancing our publicity items.  Maraaih Schuck has been sorting archives and helps making order out of chaos.  Miriam Gray who has also been sorting items, offers help and assistance with lectures and promotes the Society wherever she can.  Lou Mechanic, our computer technician, posts photos onPhoto Friday every week and emails them as well as our monthly newsletter.  Lou also critiques and edits our newsletters.  He is not a volunteer but Michael Kemezis, our archivist, is to be commended for his input.  His ideas, suggestions and computer knowledge, slowly but surely has brought order to our house.  Ahmed Tanveer must also be commended for his assistance.  Ahmed is part of the Barnert staff and has been very helpful in many ways.

It was Dorothy Greene’s suggestion to implement Photo Friday to supplement Facebook and it has taken off with great speed.  The response has been very encouraging.  Visitors are in awe of what they see when they visit.  I personally hoped for workshop space in order to enhance and repair some of our collection.  This as yet has not come to pass.  It is something we look forward to.

Recent additions to our archives include contributions of items from Maxine Yucht Schein, Adele Dresner, Margot Brandeis, Moe Liss, Jane Zimel, Janet Rich Herman, Gail Gerwin, Judy Walker, William Kaufman, Robert Blass, Dorothy Greene and Beverly and Sid Severe.  These are items that need to be maintained and preserved.  This is why your contributions are so important.

Be sure to look for an article exposing the Society in a future issue of the Jewish Standard newspaper out of Teaneck.  Joanne Plamer, Editor, recently visited the Society at Barnert and was impressed with what she saw.  Major articles in the Standard can be accessed at:  <jstandard.com> .

Jerry Nathans, President