July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Golem to the Rescue: The Return of the Golem

Part 2

Over the next week, Dr. Schwartz, as promised, sought out employment opportunities for Reb Nachman in the local vinegar trade, only to fail to find anything meaningful locally. Through a referral to a chemist friend in Easton, Schwartz discovered that while Philadelphia offered little of interest, there apparently was a need for expanded vinegar processing to the northeast in the growing industrial center of Paterson, New Jersey. Since the turn of the century, this growing metropolis on the Passaic River had seen a huge expansion in manufacturing of all sorts, and the might of its factories was growing with each passing year. Fortunately for Reb Nachman, Paterson was also the home of a nascent Jewish community, as Jewish immigrants from New York, Boston and Philadelphia had migrated to Paterson over the last decade. As a favor to Dr. Schwartz, his Easton friend arranged for Reb Nachman to meet a Mr. Cohen of Paterson to discuss a possible job opportunity in New Jersey.

When Schwartz gave him the news, Reb Nachman was very appreciative, but nervous to leave his only friend in America: “You have been like a father to me, Doctor. I will miss you very much!”

“And I you, as well.”

On a Sunday morning, about two months after he first arrived in Philadelphia, Reb Nachman boarded a small riverboat steamer that was heading north up the Delaware River, heading for Port Jervis, New York, from where he would board a train to Paterson to the east. The entire trip covered over 200 miles, including 80 miles on the newly constructed Erie, Paterson and Ramapo Railroads and took the better part of a day to complete. Reb Nachman was fascinated with the river views on the shipboard section of his trip; similarly, the New York mountain vistas he passed stirred his heart with their beauty.

Paterson was a somewhat different story. The new industrial mecca possessed all the warts of the industrial revolution recently forced upon it: grime, dust and smog made the sun an infrequent visitor to its narrow streets. Few smiles could be seen, nor sounds of laughter heard as Reb Nachman hurried from the Market Street train station to a local shop where they directed him to his appointed goal, the Abercrombie Vinegar Works Ltd. It took him 10 slow minutes to arrive at an austere-looking complex that bore a large bronze plaque that read: “Absolutely No Trespassers.” He entered the creaky metal door before him and walked over to the reception desk. The young lady sitting there looked up, and frowned at Reb Nachman, perhaps put off by his beard and forelocks:

“What do you want, Mister?”

Nachman reached inside his jacket pocket and presented his letter of introduction. “I am a friend of Dr. Schwartz of Philadelphia. I was told your company needs men experienced in the vinegar-making business. I have such experience and am looking for a job, if possible.”

“Please, wait a minute, while I see if someone can help you.”

She left and entered a small room to the left. She returned shortly with a short, busy, balding man in her wake.

“I’m Cohen, the foreman. How can I help you?”

Nachman repeated his story and Cohen studied him for more than a minute:

“I understand you have traveled a distance to get here, but the reality is we don’t have any openings at the main factory here at this time. I’m sorry, but the only jobs we have are outside of Paterson itself in the Bergen County countryside, out near Englishwood town and Teaneck, towards the Hudson River. We have vinegar collection stations throughout that area where farmers have their grapes processed by our teams that travel from place to place. Once a month these teams collect the vinegar produced and deliver it to the factory here in Paterson. Perhaps we can have you join one of these three-men teams, what do you say?”

Reb Nachman wasn’t sure what to say; he needed the job as his funds were painfully low. As he left the factory and headed toward the boardinghouse he called home temporarily, he happened to pass the main square in Paterson where groups of people were gathering for some sort of town meeting. Signs lined Broad Avenue on which appeared some disturbing messages:

“Foreigners go home! Out with all immigrants! America for Americans!

“What’s going on?” he wondered. Then he overheard two tradesmen conversing:

“It’s a rally for the “Know Nothing” party. They’re running a candidate for mayor,” said one.

“What you mean is they’re planning to run all the foreigners out of town and keep America for Americans!”

For the first time since he arrived in his new country, Reb Nachman was afraid. By now he knew enough English to fear such talk and take threats seriously. Were these people talking about him and, if so, what could he do about it?

Reb Nachman took the job offer and soon was traveling from Paterson to Bergen County to the east. He would be headquartered in the village of Hackensack on the river of the same name. He arrived at Ames boardinghouse where was introduced to his two fellow vinegar workers: Lucas Martin, a former slave from Maryland, who had been freed by his owner when he reached 21 and had worked his way north before settling in New Jersey doing a variety of odd jobs, and Lester Yellowstone, a pureblood Delaware (Lenape) Indian whose ancestors had inhabited the forests alongside the Hackensack river since time immemorial. Lester and Lucas, as minorities in Hackensack, kept a low profile in the village as the groups they belonged to were far from popular in this period of anti-immigrant feelings. They greeted Reb Nachman as a kindred spirit; however, they were impressed that he made little effort to fit in with the locals, dressing in his dark clothes and wearing a bread and head covering at all times.

Soon his two co-workers familiarized Reb Nachman with the routines of the vinegar-making job, which included weekly drives through the surrounding countryside during which they would supervise the collection and distribution of the local vinegar product. More than two dozen farms were on their route and Reb Nachman made every effort to learn the location of each one and to befriend each farmer as best he could. They were a varied group of old Dutch and English farmers with a smattering of German and French: Bromley, Van Arsdale, Shepard, Grayson, Lindbergh, Terhune, Grenville, Maitland Grayson and Camperdown on the river route south of Hackensack, and Degraw, Herrick, Phelps, Vandelinda, Johnson and Ackerman on the eastern road to Englishwood town. While a number of these farmers were friendly, most treated Reb Nachman, Lester and Lucas coldly. The “vinegar men” as they were called by the locals were viewed as city folk, as foreigners to be barely tolerated by the rural population. The farmers needed the extra cash they obtained for their vinegar, but that didn’t mean they had to like or befriend the collectors.

Joseph Rotenberg, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Link, has resided in Teaneck for over 45 years with his wife, Barbara. His first collection of short stories and essays, entitled “Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor and Enchantment,” was published in 2018 by Gefen Books and is available online at Amazon.com. He is currently working on a follow-up volume of stories and essays.

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