The Y of it all
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The Y of it all

The non-shul with a pool

“No quotas here!” was the early rallying call of the YMHA of Paterson as it sought to compete with the more-established, but less Jew-friendly, YMCA.

It was in 1914 that efforts to establish a YMHA in Paterson finally succeeded. An earlier attempt in 1877 to “develop decent Jewish manhood and womanhood in Paterson” failed to take root, as did subsequent efforts.

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Y cornerstones from 1924, 1950, and 1976

The Paterson YMHA-YWHA was renamed the YM-YWHA of North Jersey when it moved to its suburban Wayne campus in 1976.

And while the Y’s Jewish programming is seen as vital to today’s local Jewish community, a century ago the priority was different.

“If you are a Jew, you want a better Americanization for Jewish people,” the Y declared during the World War I era, according to a history the Y published in 1977.

Americanization was a major focus of the Ys of that era, which were largely serving the children of the mass Eastern European Jewish immigration that had begun in 1880, said David Kaufman, associate professor of religion at Hofstra University and an expert on the YMHA and YWHA movements.

“The immigrants weren’t interested in the Y. It wasn’t Jewish or European enough. But it was a perfect institution for the second generation,” he said.

The original 19th century YMCA movement “was really a Christian movement. It was meant to be a kind of a youth church that was meant to bring young people to religion,” said Kaufman.

By contrast, the YMHA movement was “a self-consciously secular movement. Its mission was to be an alternative to the synagogue,” said Kaufman, author of the book “Shul with a Pool: The ‘Synagogue-Center’ in American Jewish History.”

“The Y really was this extraordinarily important force in American Jewish life and that’s been forgotten,” he said.

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