November 1, 2012
For new readers of the Society newsletter, it all began in the 1980’s when we were conducting oral interviews that we realized the history of the Jewish community that began about 1840 in Paterson had been neglected. No one had collected or preserved any part of that history and it was as though there had never been a Jewish community here. Historians neglected to reflect that there was a Jewish population existing here. As we continued doing oral interviews we began collecting memorabilia and storing it at the Goldman Library at the YM/YWHA in Wayne. It didn’t take long before what we had collected overwhelmed the library. I had space available at my place of business in West Paterson so items were slowly transferred there until that became the temporary home of the collection. A part-time archivist, Jessica Peters, was hired and began cataloging the records. Unfortunately, after several months she passed away. Jessica was replaced by an intern from Rutgers University who had no experience and no mentor to guide her. The intern lasted only a few months and then resigned. The collection continued to build. It wasn’t until about 2002 that Marty Greenberg of the Jewish Federation of North Jersey at Wayne took an interest and proposed a two million dollar expansion to the Y in order to house the Society and the collection. Once again we were sidetracked when the Federation merged with Bergen County and Jewish Federation of North Jersey was dissolved. Marty Greenberg left soon after the merger and joined another Federation. The head of the new Federation was Howard Charish (Marty was second-in-command). Howard had been active in building the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest in Newark and Whippany but took little interest in our Society; however, before Marty Greenberg left he was instrumental in acquiring space at William Paterson University in Wayne to house the collection. Dr. Arnold Speert was Dean of the University at the time and generously provided space for us in a classroom at Raubinger Hall on the second floor in 2004. After a while improvements were made on the grounds in front of Raubinger Hall and parking became a problem so that no one had access to the space beside me. In 200_ Temple Emanuel in Paterson closed their building and moved to Franklin Lakes. The building was purchased by Michael Stengart, a Jewish-American realtor. For several months we were in negotiations to possibly rent space to house the collection. The deal fell through since the rental price far exceeded our income. This occurred at a time when the Barnert Hospital was closing and was being purchased by a Medical Group interested in converting the building into a Medical Complex. We negotiated with Jeff Moll, a partner in that Medical Group andthus we were able to acquire space at a reasonable rate. After approximately four years at WPU the collection was moved to the Barnert building. Having closed my business in West Paterson, whatever was stored there had been relocated to WPU and later to Barnert. With the departure of Howard Charish, Federation hired Jason Shames to replace him. With the coming of Jason Shames and Rob Hyman the total picture changed and the light in the tunnel got brighter. Both men have visited Barnert and were very impressed with what they saw. It wasn’t long before we were granted funds from Federation in order to acquire a part-time archivist and were able to purchase a limited amount of acid-free supplies to at last preserve what we had been collecting. We still seek funding and have yet to hook up with any Foundations that want to assist us. The coming of Jason and Rob has made a difference in our lives and it has given us hope for a brighter future. We continue to collect and sort and our archivist, Michael Kemenis, has been archiving our records to the extent that we are now able to find records and items that people around the world have inquired about. We still have a long way to go.
November 4th is Mitzvah Day in North Jersey. At the Jewish Historical Society of north Jersey every day is Mitzvah Day. We do a mitzvah by collecting and preserving our heritage for generations to come. Our archivist Michael Kemenis, who is not Jewish, also does mitzvahs by sorting and preserving our archives. We are deeply indebted to Ahmed Tanveer, the receptionist at Barnert, for his expertise with computers. Ahmed keeps us alerted to many of the benefits of the computer and how to preserve our records.
We have been plundered through the years and bits and pieces of our history are strewn across the country because there was no place in the area to donate them and no one to accept them so people donated items to other libraries and museums. With all our pleas we go on day by day with what seems like almost complete apathy from the Jewish community. A prominent local banker once questioned me: “Who is interested in the Jewish community?” Is this what we have been reduced to? We ourselves have been obliterating all traces of having been here. There is no need of dictators and anti-Semites to do this for us. When our children ask what have you done, what will you answer? Some of us create mausoleums and monuments with our names all over them. Of what value are these? What is a name without a story behind it? This then is the purpose of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey.
Have you checked your closet lately? I have. I have discovered many books that I have been giving away to appreciative people and I also have encyclopedias that I may have to trash since no one wants them. I have discovered many forgotten items that have been donated to the Society’s archives since I also worked from home and my business. We recently received a box containing gold from Herman Yucht’s daughter Maxine Schein from Georgia. This is gold that cannot be redeemed but enhances the archives of the Society. In the box are many photos and newspaper articles that will be sorted, cataloged and preserved. It is an endless task that we take pleasure in doing.
Thanks to Dorothy Greene, Lou Mechanic and Michael Kemenis, we have indoctrinated a new program – Photo Friday. This is in addition to Facebook and has had a great response. If you have not seen what we have collected or cannot fathom our archives, come visit us. We are at Barnert, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 – 3 or by appointment. We can arrange to pick up items if you live in the north Jersey area.
We still seek funding since we do not have a permanent source for funds and membership response has been very lax. Words of support and compliments cannot be converted into money. We very much want to go ‘green.’ Presently our primary source for exposure is our monthly newsletter and word-of-mouth. We are hoping that in the near future we will have greater exposure and more community support. Please take a minute to help us out. 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!
We wish to share the following excerpt about the Thanksgiving holiday with you:
“It’s a ‘pareve’ holiday, a chance to connect with others – religious or not, Jewish or not – as a shared experience,” Joy Epstein said. “Across the board, there are higher rates of success for any immigrant group when they are in communities of people from the same background so they can share experiences. Thanksgiving affords an opportunity to get together and reminisce about that long weekend and everything you miss about America.” Many also appreciate Thanksgiving’s overall theme. “Despite the tradition’s origins in North America, we certainly feel that the messages behind the holiday are universal and therefore welcome the chance to keep this custom alive here in Israel – both for ourselves and our children,” said Jeremy Wimpfheimer, a former Teaneck resident living in Beit Shemesh.
The above appeared in the Jewish Standard, November 16, 2007 by Abigail Klein Leichman from Israel.
We wish you and your families a very happy Thanksgiving.
Jerry Nathans, Pres.