January 2012

Allow us once again to wish y’all a healthy and happy secular New Year.  As we begin this New Year we look forward to new and better things.  After more than thirty years we hope this will be a year of re-organization and change.  Slowly our list of volunteers has increased and several individuals and foundations have recognized our existence and mission.  We still have a long way to go.

The New Year will see the re instituting of membership in the Society as well as a new Board of Trustees.  Under the guidance of our own David Wilson, the publication of a book, Jews of Paterson, is in progress.  Several people, new and repeated, have been extremely generous financially and for this we are very appreciative.  If we are unable to pay our rent it would mean curtailing our mission and relegating our archives to a remote location.

In case you haven’t heard, our archives include the Jewish communities of Bergen and HudsonCounties.  The bulk of our collection presently consists of items from PassaicCounty since it all started in Paterson and Newark.  There are great gaps in Passaic County Jewish history and there is yet much out there uncollected.  When someone passes on and their obituary lists activities they participated in in the community, I try, without offending anyone, to request donations of items rather than trashing them.  Why not sort through your papers and other collectibles now rather than leaving the job to your family or friends to do so afterward?  Help us expose the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey to the Jewish communities of North Jersey.

We still need funds for an archivist and persons to conduct oral interviews of people who remember a vibrant Paterson Jewish community.  The Jewish communities of Bergen and Hudson Counties are relatively newer and there are many people who still remember the beginnings of those communities and should be interviewed.  We have contacted several institutions capable of conducting such programs but have gotten no response.  One thing lacking in our existence has been exposure.  We get a small amount of exposure in L’Chaim but that is due to the fact that we lack a large amount of Bergen County history and photographs.  Can anyone out there give us some good “P. R.”?  We have about 100 oral interviews on cassettes and are looking for someone capable of transferring these tapes to CDs before they disappear.

We received a grant from the Paterson Historical Commission that will allow us to purchase a small quantity of acid-free folders and boxes.  This will insure the preservation of some of what has thus far been collected.  We sorely need your support and input.  It has taken more than one hundred seventy years to reach this point, even with the many gaps.  People did not realize Jews would be a driving force in the North Jersey area for so long and they neglected to collect or preserve the Jewish presence.  The gold we have collected is irreplaceable.

We wish to express our gratitude to those who so generously shared their past with us so that future generations know from whence they came.  Our thanks to Edie Sobel, who, upon retirement as Editor of Jewish Community News of Clifton/Passaic, decided to donate a collection of photos to the Society’s archives (most unidentified) so that they would not be trashed.  These photos tell a story of a once vibrant Jewish community that has since moved on in different directions and has built newer and more vibrant Jewish communities in new locations.  We seek anyone with dark-room or computer photographic skills, who might enhance some of our photos so that they once again look professional in a future publication and are recognizable.

We implore you to share any organizational records you may have with us.  I have been to several cemeteries recently looking for requested family graves.  A good deal of cemetery records are lost, primarily organization and landsmanschaften records.  Early cemeteries without on-site offices conducted business with hand-written books and maps some of which have been lost to us.  Some gravestones have been overturned by vandals and some have been covered over by shrubbery.  We need interpreters who will photograph a stone and give us a written translation of its inscription.  Funds are needed to right stones that vandals have desecrated.  Let us not look the other way.

A funny thing happened the other day at the office.  I happened to mention receiving a request from North Carolina from someone seeking information on the Tonelson family.  Volunteer Bob Nussman admitted to being related to the Tonelson family, proving what a small world we live in.  We have received requests from around the world from people looking for lost relatives and some time in the future will list the names of some of those being looked for.

We appreciate your praise and advice but they do not exchange for funds that are needed to preserve our heritage.  Our special thanks and gratitude to the few who have donated to our mission before the end of the current year.  We ask that you please share this Newsletter with others or send us their email or USPS address.  All of us volunteers again wish y’all a healthy, happy and especially a prosperous New Year.

Have you checked your closet lately?

Jerry Nathans, President

Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey