April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Part 3: The Conclusion

As the weeks went by, with the ascendancy of the Know Nothing party in northern New Jersey, matters began to take a turn for the worse for Reb Nachman and the other vinegar men. One of the farmers, Ed Brinkerhoff, attended a meeting of the party in Paterson, where delegates were selected to a statewide convention of the Know Nothings. Upon his return to his farm across the river from Hackensack, he invited several of his neighbors to his home one evening to discuss steps that could be taken to rid their neighborhood of undesirables. Included in that group would be Catholics, Blacks, Indians and other distinctly foreign elements, among whom could reasonably be included conspicuously Jewish persons such as Reb Nachman.

The vinegar men continued to ply their business as best they could, ignoring taunts they were receiving with greater frequency from the farmers on their route. But when a number of farmers began to patrol the local roads in menacing fashion, it became clear to Reb Nachman that the danger to him and his associates was rising to a serious level. Finally, on a particularly sunny autumn day, a half dozen or so farmers surprised the vinegar men on the eastern road, overturned their wagon and beat them with sticks and iron bars. Their assailants shouted slogans at them, railing against foreigners and spewing hate-filled curses at them. Reb Nachman’s coat was torn in several places and blood flowed from cuts on Lucas’ forehead and Lester’s cheek. The local sheriff in Hackensack was not much help to the wounded workers, who suspected the sheriff was in sympathy with the marauders.

“I’ll report the attack to Paterson,” promised Reb Nachman to Lester and Lucas, which he did after they were patched up by a doctor in Hackensack. The response from headquarters was none too promising: “Try to be careful,” was all the return telegram said.

“I don’t think they realize how much danger we are in,” thought Reb Nachman.

“I’m ready to quit,” said Lester.

“It ain’t worth it,” added Lucas.

“Don’t fly off the handle,” responded Reb Nachman, using a favorite new English phrase he had recently learned.

Events were moving quickly, however, and soon rumors were spreading that the farmers and their Hackensack supporters were planning to launch an organized attack in Hackensack against all foreigners and other undesirables. The police, it was said, would look the other way. Reb Nachman knew the time to act had arrived.

He accordingly brought Lester and Lucas into his room in the boardinghouse and disclosed a plan he had devised to stymie the rioters. They were skeptical of what Reb Nachman told them, but they had no choice but to go along with what he suggested.

“It sounds impossible,” said Lucas, “but seeing will be believing!”

“Among my Delaware people we have such creatures that help the nation when it is under attack, so I will go along with you!” added Lester.

“We don’t have much time to spare,” insisted Reb Nachman. “Let’s head out across the river to the north road now!”

It was late in the afternoon, so the vinegar men brought along material from which they could light torches if they needed them later in the forest. Within an hour, they arrived near a large expanse of forest that today encompasses Tokoloka Park in northwest Teaneck; at the time, in 1849, it was part of a tract of farmland belonging to the Dearborn family. Reb Nachman had brought with him a dusty old Hebrew volume along with a small box with Hebrew inscriptions written on its sides.

“Collect as many pieces of wood as you can,” Reb Nachman instructed his friends. A small pond stood not far away from the men.

“Next let’s gather mud from the pond, at least several pounds’ worth!”

After 15 minutes, the raw materials lay on the ground in front of Reb Nachman, who began to assemble the mud, sticks and some nearby stones into the rough outline of a figure some seven feet tall. Allowing some time for the materials to harden, Reb Nachman studied the Hebrew text by the light of a torch Lester had just lit.

Reb Nachman began to chant in Hebrew and Lucas couldn’t resist the urge to sing along in an ancient Delaware chant his grandfather had taught him; Lester just stood wide-eyed watching his two friends recite words unfamiliar to him and each other.

Suddenly, Reb Nachman stopped singing, as did Lester.

“In the name of the Maharal, my kinsman, I hereby place the name of the Ineffable in your mouth! Come alive, O Golem in this new land and smite our enemies!”

Reb Nachman quickly opened the small box and took a tiny scroll from inside, placing it on the face of the hardened body that he had formed on the ground. In a second, a crack of lightning could be seen and the sound of nearby thunder. The body started to stir and rise, as Nachman, Lucas and Lester scattered behind nearby trees.

“Go forth, Golem and find our enemies!” shouted Reb Nachman. “Spoil their evil plans and save us from destruction!”

By this time the Golem, a full seven feet tall, was thrashing its way through the forest towards the northern road in the direction of Hackensack. Not far from Tokoloka, the rioters, maybe 30 strong, were gathering to begin their assault on the innocent townsfolk. As they parceled out weapons among themselves, the Golem approached. In place of eyes, the Golem possessed only darkened slits, and it staggered toward the assembled with an unsteady gait. In a matter of minutes, he was upon them and panic ensued.

“Head for the hills!” they shouted. “It’s the Devil himself!”

In a matter of minutes the Golem scattered the rioters, their wagons, their weapons and all of their anti-foreigner signs as well. The golem pursued them for at least half a mile down the road until none of them remained to be seen.

Reb Nachman had carefully followed the Golem from behind and when at last it sat down against a large oak tree, he reached from behind the resting monster and deftly removed the scroll from its mouth. Within moments the Golem began to break up into its component parts, the breeze carrying off pieces of wood, leaves, mud and stone in a whirlwind of movement. In five minutes, all was silent.

With the first appearance of the Golem, the local anti-foreigner movement was dealt a huge blow. No one who had been there that night wanted to risk a repeat performance. As is typical in such cases, the Golem only grew in the retelling of that night’s events:

“It was at least eight feet tall, I swear!”

“It breathed fire, like a dragon from Hell!”

“I’ve never been so frightened in my life!”

Reb Nachman, Lester and Lucas were never again bothered by the Know Nothings who slowly came to accept new immigants to America as a source of strength, rather than persons to be feared or shunned. Today, local residents, young and old, can happily walk the forests of Tokoloka and Teaneck without fear that they’ll run into a Golem. But then, if the need should arise, you can never know for sure!

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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