My name is Jerry Nathans and I am the former president of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey.
The first Jews arrived here about 1840 and quickly became involved in finding a new life for themselves and their families; they were professionals, merchants, tailors, teachers, scholars and even peddlers. Their children often became doctors and lawyers. Our history here is rich, deep, and often surprising.
The Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey is an organization that plays an important part in our history. Our mission is to collect and preserve more than 175 years of Jewish presence and involvement in North Jersey.
I want to reach out to the local Jewish communities in response to a recent oversight. When it was too late, we were informed that Congregation Beth Tikvah in New Milford had closed, merging with the Paramus Jewish Center. We also learned that all their records had been destroyed, because of a lack of a place to deposit them. None of their officers had ever heard of the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey and therefore they never contacted us.
After the fact, I was fortunate to be in touch with the shul’s president, Ralph Gerber, who was kind enough to open the building and allow me to photograph some remaining Jewish artifacts that the new owners wished to keep. We also were able to acquire several photographs Sandy Alpern took of the procession where the Torahs were moved to their new home.
We want the community to know who we are and what we do, and we need your help. Our president, Dorothy Greene, working with Lou Mechanic and our archivist, Michael Kemezis, have instituted a program called “Photo Friday,” which reaches more than 500 people and has stimulated interest in our mission. If we are to continue our mission and preserve the priceless items that are our legacy we need your help. We must raise funds, and we must find a way to let the North Jersey Jewish community learn more about us and our mission. There are Jewish foundations that do not know about us.
We have been fortunate to acquire records and memorabilia from several congregations and organizations that no longer exist. We have scrapbooks of photographs and newspaper articles; we have books by local authors, written in both English and Yiddish. Several years ago Ed Smyk, Passaic County’s historian, dove into a dumpster and retrieved many volumes of American Jewish history that the Paterson public library was discarding; he generously donated them to the society. At one time there were Jewish newspapers in Paterson, Passaic, and Fair Lawn. A limited number of copies have been microfilmed, but there are big gaps in the missing issues.
More than 20 years ago, Reeva Isaacs began an oral interview program that allowed us to amass over 100 interviews of local people who remembered vibrant, living Jewish communities that now are gone. We hope to reinstitute that program.
We are a nonprofit, corporation, and any contributions to us are tax exempt. Please do not wait for someone to come in and clean out your closets and drawers. Check your closets, look through your attics, and contribute Jewish records and items now.