Little Beverly Douma is enjoying a cruise on her new bike on the corner of E.25th Street and 7th Avenue in Paterson, May 1952
Not even the experts can agree on just how far back our childhood memories go. However, once let loose they can hum like a hive of bees. This newsletter will attempt to take us through a mid-twentieth century neighborhood in Paterson that had “no name.”
Growing up in Paterson was great. The diversifed “topography” made it a wonderful epicenter of activity. There are so many communities and sections that it is hard to know all their names. There is one particular enclave that was never identified by name. It is located loosely between 10th Avenue and 5th Avenue and bounded by Madison Avenue and McLean Boulevard. It was not quite Eastside and not quite Riverside. Most of the children in that enclave went to School 21; a few others attended P.S. 18.; and, later on, to School 26 when it was built. It burgeoned quickly in the late 1940’s as new homes, built during the post-war housing boom, were intermingled into the already existing landscape. The sky blazed bluer and the grass grew greener on that side of town, or so we thought. It is interesting to note that residents had ‘dual-citizenship’ and identities, claiming themselves either from the Eastside or Riverside, depending which way the wind was blowing that day. Not bad!
A steep hill rises sharply from McLean Boulevard and levels out on East 25th Street. Its high vantage point affords far-ranging perspectives and living there makes people feel perched on a “shelf” from which they can watch the world. From the second floor on a dark winter night, facing east from 25th Street, you could see the red light on the top of the George Washington Bridge or, slightly southeast, the shining lights on the tall tower of the Grand Union on Broadway in East Paterson. On July 4th, webbed lawn chairs were whisked to the corner of 7th Avenue to enjoy a spectacular show of fireworks from Fair Lawn’s Memorial Park.There are panoramic views of Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Hawthorne and the mountains to be had from E.24th Street and 5th Avenue. All year long there are bright windows to distant views that include the Passaic River and beyond…and the “view” is really what life is all about, isn’t it?
Residents in these surroundings had the option of strolling down either 10th Avenue, 8th Avenue or Madison Avenue. Tenth Avenue’s Sussman’s Drug Store was best for buying teen sundries because no one in there would look at you ‘funny.’ Remember how delicious the delicatessen was at Friedman’s? And Richie’s Chinese-American Restaurant was a one-of-a-kind landmark. If you didn’t want to walk to Abe’s to get your candy or comics, you could saunter over to 8th Avenue and 22nd Street to buy them at Bill’s (later to become Bernie’s). There was also Widetsky’s ‘mom and pop’ grocery store on 8th and 23rd. Trucks with carnival rides came to town and we paid a dime for a good time. There was a library, a ‘pocket’ park, woodsy empty lots and fishing in the Passaic River. One could cavort, shop, eat, learn and be Davy Crockett all in the same day of play. Oh, those wasted hours of youth!
“The neighborhood with no name” was not considered the major Jewish area of Paterson . It had neither temples nor religious schools within its realm. None the less, it was populated by many Jews with strong identities. Of course, there were many more Jewish families clustered deep in the Eastside section close to Temple Emanuel and Yavneh. However, the Jews of “E. 25th Street” also had many devoted members of B’nai Brith, Hadassah, the “Y” and the various temples in the city. Many scouts, scout leaders and den mothers lived there. Hilda Gelman, Rabbi Panitz’s secretary from Temple Emanuel lived on E. 25th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue for well over 30 years. Hilda is just one example of an involved community participant. Leonard and Thelma Peres handed out comic books on Halloween, year after year, instead of candy to trick-or-treaters. Hey, they may have given away a fortune but 50 years later we are still talking about how exciting it was to ring their door bell.
Familiarity abounded. There was a mix of people not only drawn from the different strands of Judaism but also composed of folks of different colors and customs. This patchworked Paterson Jewish community encompassed many different personal life styles with give and take throughout. The surrounding inhabitants, whoever they happened to be, were our invisible support system because we learned to interact with people from diversified backgrounds. This multi-ethnic locale had so many different rhythms that when we played together we made a beautiful sound.
The Paterson Chapter of Hadassah, organized in 1925*, was appropriately named after its founder, Henrietta Szold. Bernadine Jasper Mechanic, its long-time President, said in this 1960’s speech: “How fitting it is the Hebrew name of this woman whose thinking forms so much of the warp and woof of our organization, should have been “Hadassah”. Henrietta’s work and ideas for our organization have helped in the creation of so much that is a part of the pattern of modern Israel.”
Born in 1860 in Baltimore, Henrietta Szold fondly remembered her childhood “neighborhood.” She always insisted she had a clear picture of herself as a girl of four helping several women pick lint for bandages for the military hospitals during the Civil War. Even more vivid was the memory of her father, Rabbi Benjamin Szold, lifting her up to see Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession passing down the street. Rabbi Szold taught her to have broad tolerance and understanding for Jews who identified themselves at different levels of religious observance. He taught Henrietta citizenship, progressiveness and fearlessness. By example, he demonstrated to her how to be everyone’s champion and the necessity of devoting oneself whole-heartedly to causes.** He conveyed to her the need to have wide-minded charity toward everyone’s point of “view” and inspired her to commit herself to a life time of public service.
Isn’t that what we have always done so seamlessly in Paterson?
Dorothy Douma Greene, President
* September 27, 1954 Paterson “Y” Criterion
**Fighting Angel, The Story of Henrietta Szold, by Elma Ehrlich Levinger, 1946
JHSNJ NEWS UPDATE: Our cultural assumptions can sometimes sway the way we “view” the outside world. We know that no matter where you grew up, it was a very special place to be. Please share your neighborhood’s reminisces with us. What made your ‘little kingdom’ in northern New Jersey sentimental or significant to your adult life? We promise to incorporate your cherished memories into future newsletter “sequels.”