September 2012

We’re back!  We hope you had a great summer and that you missed us.  It is time to get back to work!

For new readers of our newsletters or those of you who may be unfamiliar with The Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey we’d love to tell you and show you what we have amassed since the Society’s beginning in 1979.  We have collected writings, diaries, notes, oral histories, letters, books by local authors, documents and thousands of photographs. Some of our collection dates back to the early Jewish immigrants who came to North Jersey in 1870!  Unfortunately,over the years, people rarely took the time to identify the photos, mark locations, events or even to date them.  Visitors have been finding family members (as well as themselves) in photos they never knew existed.

Thank you everyone for responding to our newsletters.  We were here working over the summer and thanks to Dorothy Greene and Michael Kemezis our archivist, the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be getting brighter.  Dorothy has been supervising the volunteers, sorting records and even removing rusted paper clips and staples.  Michael has been sorting various collections and transferring documents into acid-free folders.  He has been making order out of chaos. All this has made it easier to reply to the requests we receive from people around the world.

The following is an excerpt from Michael Chabon’s book,”Gentlemen of the Road,” and emphasizes the importance of our Society’s mission:  “We know little about the Khazars, a people of Turkic origin who settled in, and for a while came to dominate, the Caucasus Black Sea region. It appears that large numbers of them converted to Judaism sometime before 900 C. E. or so, but no one is completely sure to what extent the conversion took place, or for what reason.  No one is very sure of anything about the Khazars because they left few written records.”  This makes a statement about our mission and purpose so that future generations will know who we were and what we did.

Your support is very important to us.  We also need your encouragement.  It is your encouragement that keeps us on track.  What has been collected and rescued from the trash and the recyclers is truly ‘gold’.  We have items collectors would “chomp-at-the-bit” to acquire.  We have memorabilia that would make you gape. Our past presents the connection and introduction to our future.  There is so much that is important to the documentation and preservation of history for future generations.  We need to write and talk for the sake of history, so that even when we are gone, our voices won’t be lost.

We are thankful we are able to make some people happy.  Unfortunately we cannot satisfy everyone.  In time we hope we can make more people content. To illustrate my point – In searching for some requested documents we rediscovered a wrinkled and torn ketubah from 1909. The rediscovery of the ketubah has made someone from Washington, DC and her New Jersey family very happy.  The discovery of such records attest to our mission and compensate us for our efforts, making it all worthwhile. We schep noches (feel proud) when someone discovers something we have and they get excited.  Remember, we are doing this for our children and future generations. If you personally have ever tried researching your family history from North Jersey and found an empty well, we may be able to help in some small way; however we cannot provide guarantees.  There are yet many missing links in our history.  This is why we so desperately need your help. So much has been discarded because people think that what they have been saving is useless junk.  Please!  Allow us the final decision of what should be saved.  All the bits and pieces should come together somewhere down the line.  We are not doing this for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren and future generations so that they understand where they came from.  Just recently someone donated a collection of family photos, all are unidentified.  They depict professional portraits by a Jewish Paterson photographer from the early 1900’s. Maybe these people are your mishpacha!

 We ourselves have gone to libraries and cannot understand why certain records have not been saved.  We have microfilm of several local Jewish newspapers but, because of budget constraints, no microfilm reader to access this information. Likewise, one day we would like to digitize our collection.  We also have boxes of marked Jewish obituaries and boxes of Jewish newspapers but no funds to convert them to useable research items.  We have a rich Jewish heritage in the North Jersey area.  Let us not lose it.  We read obituaries every day.  Some are of prominent people, some of people who were active in the Jewish community.  What happens to their papers and records?  People die in nursing homes, senior housing or at home without family.  What happens to their papers and
records?  Are they boxed and stored or just disposed of?  Not being a ghoul I hesitate to impose on people’s mourning period. If I keep repeating myself I apologize.  Although I have helped accumulate these records for over thirty years, I too am in awe of some of the items that have surfaced. I have been listening to my own advice and have been checking my closets rather than obligate my children to do it.  We need your help before more of our rich heritage is lost.  We are a depository for all such items. Our funds are not used to compensate any of the volunteers who donate their time to collecting and preserving this priceless collection.  The only one receiving any compensation is our accredited archivist who is bringing order to our house.
Incidentally, we have had only two responses to that abandoned Jewish cemetery in Clifton we had written about in an earlier newsletter.  It came from someone wanting to help and to do a mitzvah and the other one was from a genealogist.  There are Jewish bodies interred there yet no one appears to care.  Why?  The rabbi who had the gravestones removed was very active with the Freedom Riders in the south and spent time in jail in the 60’s.  He removed many of the gravestones yet he looked the other way in regard to the interred bodies. We are trying to determine the names of who might have been buried in the original B’nai Jeshurun cemetery in Clifton and have come up with several names.  How accurate the names we have are remains to be seen because early Paterson records were destroyed in the great fire of 1903.
Several months ago I wrote about William Bernstein who was killed on the Exodus in Israel in 1947.  William was born in Passaic and his family had moved to California about 1936.  Recently, sorting through items I discovered a letter from Sadye Petshaft of Hasbrouck Heights, donating photographs of the family of Abraham Goldberg of Passaic who were related to William and his family.  We would appreciate hearing from the Petshaft or Goldberg families if they still live in the area. Someone in Israel is seeking William’s Hebrew name to be engraved on his grave stone.
It is that time of year when the Jewish community welcomes in a New Year.  The Society is looking forward to the future. We have received two grants and look forward to more grants in order to continue our mission and collect and preserve our heritage.  If you can help in any way it would be a mitzvah.  Do not allow us to disappear as there is too much at stake here. Thanks to the recognition and funding from Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey we were able to obtain the services of Michael Kemezis.  Both of these positives are omens of a bright future, of good things yet to come. Even with that generous allocation from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey we still need funds. Acid-free supplies are expensive and we need many boxes and other items in order to transfer our collection from acidic boxes and further preserve what we have collected.  We know there are many worthy organizations seeking funds in order to remain alive and we too join their ranks; however, if you have or know of a Foundation who might give us a grant, please contact us so that we can address our needs.
Soon,we hope to reinstitute our oral interview program.  We need to talk for the sake of history, so that even when we are gone, our voices will not be lost; however, first we need the necessary equipment to do interviews! These past few months I have been reading in many publications about collecting and preserving our Jewish heritage.  It seems none of these publications acknowledge our existence.  The Society appears to be overlooked. What we have been doing for over thirty years seems irrelevant despite our thirty years of collecting and preserving some extraordinary records.   Exposure is an important part of our existence yet few wish to recognize us. 

Surprisingly, we still appear to be a well kept secret in the Jewish communities of North Jersey.  If you know anyone who does not know about us, and should be informed, please tell them about us or tell them to contact us for information.  Please send us their email address.  We hope to be around a long time.  Once we are able to scan our records into computers it will be another world.  People from around the world will then have access to these records.  Help make this dream become a reality and not remain just a dream.On Sunday, August 19th we held an Open House at Barnert. Approximately 40 people attended and appeared to be delighted by what they saw, especially “old” friends.  The Society was delighted with the response and plans to have more such events in the coming months.Please! Don’t forget to check your closets!All of us wish you and yours a healthy and happy New Year.  We look forward to a more productive year and even more changes by then.

Jerry Nathans, President