For years, Jerry Nathans’ two-bedroom apartment was packed with scores of boxes filled with synagogue membership records, photo albums of confirmations, bar mitzvah classes and old Torah scroll coverings – the entire collection of the Jewish Historial Society.
Nathans, who says he’s been holding the society together as its president, finally has decided to move the collection out of his apartment, to the old Barnert Hospital, and in the process, he’s closing a historical circle.
Nathans, 82, hopes that moving into Barnert – founded by one of the most prominent Jewish citizens of the city’s history -- will mean a fresh start for his 30-year-old organization. The society has had trouble securing money to hire an archivist to properly maintain the records. With the move to Barnert will come a reorganized board, a reinstated newsletter and, once again, lectures and exhibits, Nathans said.
Among the boxes that must be unpacked and catalogued in the new society space are old photos of people making Challah and celebrating Purim, stacks of old temple newsletters, quarterly Jewish magazines and synagogue membership books. On a rack hang several silk-embroidered torah scroll covers.
Black-and-white photos from the early 20th century depict a time when the city’s Jewish community thrived. They include portraits of brawny Jewish football teams from the ‘20s, a mortgage burning for a synagogue, the old B’Nai Israel Synagogue, a Spanish-style temple that once stood on Godwin Avenue, and a B’Nai Jesheron confirmation class of 1933.
Paterson was home to about 35,000 Jewish residents at its peak. Jewish immigrants came in waves, first, from Germany beginning in the 1840s, and from Poland and Russia in the 1880s. The city hosted the region’s finest kosher butchers and bakeries, and streets bustled with Jewish businesses — shoemakers, tailors, lawyers’ offices.
By the 1940s, families that had achieved success began to move for more spacious homes in Fair Lawn and Clifton, Nathans said, beginning the Jewish departure from the city. One of Paterson’s last major Jewish landmarks -- Temple Emanuel, built in the 1920s -- has recently been converted into a community arts center. Its congregation had relocated to Franklin Lakes. (NorthJersey)
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