March 2013

The secular month of March ushers in the Jewish month of Nisan and with it the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egyptian oppression.  Let us also remember the Jewish exodus from European oppression and pogroms in Eastern Europe during the 19th centuries.  Many of us are grateful for whatever reason our forefathers chose to come to America and without a Moses to lead them.  We have much to celebrate and be thankful for as we celebrate the Passover holiday.  There was a relatively small group of children as well as adults who were fortunate enough to escape the Nazi onslaught.

So much of our Jewish heritage was lost when people during the Holocaust, thinking they were moving, packed their belongings only to have them confiscated and in many instances destroyed.  Those of us, whose families were fortunate enough to come to America or any other free country, should ensure that our heritage will be preserved by supporting the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey.  Our mission is to collect and preserve as much of our Jewish heritage as is humanly possible.

We have been in contact with congregations and organizations that insist upon maintaining their own records.  What will happen when the next generation comes along and no one wishes to expend the energy to preserve what little remains?  A perfect example is our search for burial records that were maintained by someone only to have been discarded, accidentally or otherwise, when that person moved or passed away.  The Great Paterson Fire of 1903 destroyed many records that were maintained in the Jewish area of Paterson.  Cemeteries did not always have business offices and records were maintained by individuals in fragile books that have fallen apart or disintegrated and were written in Yiddish and sometimes in Hebrew as well as in broken English.  Today we hope to one day be able to digitize our collected records in order to preserve them for future generations.  We have no access or cooperation from the local Jewish Cemetery Committee when we seek records of grave sites in response to inquiries we receive from around the world.  The Cemetery Committee makes promises to respond but never follows through.  The Society seeks information concerning Arthur Collier who died in 1928.  He had offices in Paterson and is supposedly buried in Mt. Nebo Cemetery in Totowa.  Anyone related to him or having any information about him is asked to please contact us.  We are also seeking information about Raleigh Weintrob who was killed in a train accident in Paterson in 1924.

We are indebted to everyone who has expressed supporting opinions, thus encouraging the Society to continue our mission.  This is a community effort not a personal one.  To everyone who has expressed dismay over my resignation, I am resigning my title not my involvement.  G-d willing He will not yet call upon me to perform somewhere else.  I hope to see the ‘promised land’ where we find more space in which to comfortably expand.  Jewish Federation in Paramus is very supportive of us thanks to Rob Hyman and Jason Shames.
In a weekly Torah Commentary by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, AJU, Rabbi Artson states:  Our children can only inherit what we ourselves possess.  If we do not plant trees of living experience and passion now, they will not have the memories, values, or guidance to fall back on later in life…..  Tomorrow begins the moment today is finished.  And the work we do today will shape our children’s tomorrows.

If anyone wishes to contact us we now have a real telephone – 862-257-1208.  Michael Kemezis continues to sort and store our archives in acid-free folders and boxes, making it a little easier to locate items.  Anne Meyers has generously donated a mezuzah to be placed on the doorpost as you enter our space.  We are making progress, slowly but surely.

Our Photo Friday team (Dorothy Greene, Lou Mechanic and Michael Kemezis) is grateful for the wonderful response they get from people identifying people in photos and making corrections.  Many people are joining the Society in order to receive the weekly output of photos.

A perfect example of things going astray is a piece of sculpture that had once hung in Temple Beth Tikvah, Wayne.  It was acquired when I was president there in the 60’s and it was a magnificent brass flower approximately 24 to 30 inches on the outside and stood out from the wall about 10 inches.  It had been used as a fund raiser and was composed of petals, leaves and stems, all in brass.  Several names had been painted on the petals and leaves with ‘in memory of’ or ‘in honor of’.  I inquired about the sculpture when I spoke at the Temple and no one had ever seen it or was aware it had ever existed.

Our mission, our purpose for being was brought home to us on Friday Februrary 15th  when three women came to visit the JHNSJ. After receiving the tour and wandering around looking at the many photos and items on display, they were preparing to leave. At this time one woman asked in passing if the Society had any Fair Lawn yearbooks. She said her father, who must be 85-90 years old, attended high school in Fair Lawn or Paterson and she wanted to see a picture of him. She then told the story about how her mother and father divorced when she was very young and had never seen his picture and does not even remember what he looks like.

Dorothy Greene suggested checking in the Eastside High School yearbooks between the years of 1940 and 1943 for his picture. Dorothy checked the 1943 yearbook without any success. They then checked the 1940 year book and lo and behold she found her father’s picture. It was an exciting and emotional moment. This was the first time she had ever seen a picture of him. Her eyes were filled with tears. Copies were made so that she could show them to her children. She said about the experience, “I never expected or thought that I would accomplish one of my life goals in an afternoon (my dad’s photo and insight into his early life)… [this] is a moment I will always cherish.” A moment like the one described above is the essence of what we try to accomplish here at the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey. We try to collect as much history as possible to save for future generations.
The Society is extremely grateful that what we are doing has proven successful even to a small degree.  We are grateful to the people who return each week and help us make order out of chaos. Several of our ‘girls’ have ventured to Florida for ‘Paterson Day’ in Florida.  Our special thanks to Anne Meyers, Miriam Gray and Ina Harris, our regulars at Barnert, for exposing us and our mission to the Paterson ‘snow birds’.  There is to be a ‘Paterson Day’ on April 27 at the Brownstone in Paterson for those who wish to ‘mix’, here in the north.  Mireile Schuck is another regular who comes and rifles through our archives making order.  Newcomers are Ellen and Arnold Cohen who appear on Fridays and enjoy the process of making order.  There is still much to do but the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be getting brighter.
We are deeply indebted to Rob Hyman, JFNNJ, for his interest and concern for the future of the Society. Rob would like to see us more widely exposed  in the Jewish community.  He has met several people who have never heard of us and did not know we exist.  We also wish to thank Prof. Bob Wolk, WPU, who has been advising us about restarting and improving our Oral History Program.  We hope to soon acquire new equipment in order to reinstate the program.  If you know of anyone who can or wishes to be interviewed, please let us know.  As soon as the weather changes for the better, we hope to start conducting interviews once again.
Jerry Nathans, President