June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Jewish Historical Society Preserves the Past for Our Children

p style=”text-align: justify;”>“The past is the teacher of the present and the guide of the future.” – Rebbe Joseph Isaac Schneersohn

 

The seeds of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey were sown over 35 years ago by Sylvia Firschein, then Librarian at the Y in Wayne. Sylvia received requests for information about former Jewish Patersonians after the Y moved from Paterson to Wayne. She put out a request for people who might be interested in conducting oral interviews of seniors. One thing led to another and it was soon realized that there was nothing about Paterson’s Jewish community that people could research, and thus the seeds were sown. Thanks to enrichment by north Jersey’s Jewish communities, the Society has blossomed and grown tremendously. Its mission through the years has been the collection and preservation of over 170 years of Jewish presence in the North Jersey area. The preservation of that presence is for our children, grandchildren and future generations as well as for students of all ages. Beginning with Paterson and Passaic County memorabilia, the Society soon realized that the history of surrounding areas was not being preserved; therefore, its mission expanded to include Bergen and Hudson Counties.

What has been collected is mind boggling and much has been rescued from the refuse piles. There is more out there that needs to be saved and preserved. People are moving out of North Jersey; many have passed away and some have moved out of the country. People do not know the Society exists or what it is accomplishing and it is vital to get the word out about what it is doing and why. The need to reach out is evident in reading obituaries in local newspapers. These people’s papers and memorabilia should be preserved—not stashed away to eventually dry up and be lost or destroyed. It is also important to preserve the records of congregations and organizations that have been merging and closing.

In most instances the Society’s acquisition of memorabilia has been rewarding. For many years there was no mention by historians of a Jewish presence in north Jersey, as though Jews didn’t exist, yet Jewish men and women have avidly contributed to the development of north Jersey for over 170 years. A primary reference of this Jewish presence has been Michael Baum’s biography of Nathan Barnert and Cipora Schwartz’s history of Cong. B’nai Jeshurun, originally in Paterson and now in Franklin Lakes.

There are biographies, letters and many, many photographs going back in time. Most of the photos have no names, dates, occasions or locations. Please take the time to go through your photo collection and identify as many photos as you can so that your children and grandchildren will know who and what they are looking at. Attach a small piece of paper on the backs with names, possible dates and possible locations or occasions; do not write on the face of the photo. A prominent local photographer saw fit, upon closing his studio, to place his photo collection and negatives on the curb rather than donate them. The collections of other photographers are hidden away and have yet to be discovered.

For over 135 years no one had taken it upon themselves to collect and preserve our local Jewish history. At one time the Society displayed many Judaica items, some handmade. They have embroidered Torah mantels with embroidery that you may never see again. They are seeking new display cases, as the old ones were damaged in their most recent relocation, so that once again they can display these wonderful, precious items.

In addition to records and items, they are also collecting personal stories. They have a large collection of oral interviews that reflect early life in north Jersey as well as life in other places before coming to the Goldena Medina. Some have been transcribed and many of these cassettes need to be transferred to CDs. There is so much more out there that can and should be done. They are seeking anything related to Jewish life in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties that shows who has been here and what they did.

Also needing assistance is “Photo Friday,” a weekly program that features photos from its archives, that has caught the attention of several hundred people, people who recognize faces and have provided names and possible locations. If you have photos you would care to contribute to the archives, please contact them. They also have a collection of Jewish business/professional cards from all over, showing who was here and what they did, and they ask people to autograph the face of current cards. They have gone into local cemeteries and photographed grave stones for people around the world, some of which people have never seen.

Their archives include Yiddish, written organization records as well as letters and postcards that need translation. Can anyone help? Please get in touch.

When our children ask “vos is gevain?” (What was?), we need to be certain there is a place nearby they can get answers.

The Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Contributions to JHSNJ are deductible for federal income tax purposes. What began over 35 years ago as an unlikely start-up is now, thanks to you, a strong, effective organization. They need your help to continue their mission. Your membership will help to open doors and to expand their archives. They need your help so they may continue to grow for the benefit of future generations. They are laying plans for the future, considering what is needed now to make certain what has been collected remains safe and the organization remains strong.

The Society’s offices are currently located at 17-10 River Road – Suite 3A, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410; phone: 201-300-6590; email: [email protected].

By Jerry Nathans, JHSNJ

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