What follows is a memoir written by Sallye Klein about the founding of the Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey. It was received by Mike Weiner to use as part of the opening program at Hebrew School in September, 2001. Due to the attack on the 11th of that month the program was cancelled and the memoir unread until read to the congregation by Howie Hirsch in Fall, 2007.
You see before you...Sallye Klein...the only child of Abe and Fannie Lewinsky.
I am a Sabra...not of Israel, but of the village of Washington, N.J.
My active memories stem back to the prehistoric time period of the middle 1920's. And it is my pleasure to say that there was Jewish life...Jewish religion in this small town.
In those days there were few automobiles. Only the ones owned by the very affluent. To make the trip to the neighboring city of Easton, Pennsylvania, where there was a synagogue was a great ordeal. So of necessity the small number of Jewish families banded together...purchased a Torah...prayer books...and whatever else was necessary to conduct services. When the Torah...prayer books...and etcetera were not in use they were housed in the very orthodox home of a family named...Cabikov. In fact...the elder Mr. Cabikov...was the father of Abe Cabikov, a deceased member of this synagogue.
Mr. Cabikov was not an ordained rabbi; however he was very learned in Hebrew and Judaism. It was he who conducted the religious services. The families congregated for services in what was then know as the "Bryant" building. It is now the site of the Rite Aid Pharmacy...but in those days it was a 3 floor building, later destroyed by a horrific fire. Services were conducted on the third floor of that building. Each family was assessed evenly to cover the rental cost...the torah...the prayer books...and whatever was necessary.
A number of years went by with the Jewish families bonding together in this lifestyle. In the middle 1930s Washington commenced to grow in Jewish population. There were children coming to live in Washington that needed religious education, and therefore became a need for more organized religious observance.
Negotiations with the orthodox synagogue in Easton to send us a teacher for the children did not materialize successfully. "Necessity is the mother of invention" - and with great pleasure to tell one and all that a lovely lady by the name of Rose Schneider took it upon herself to teach. This was done from home to home.
Eventually the number of children grew and it was necessary to find a place to rent and be able to contain the larger number of children to study. The location procured was what we termed at that time "the opera house building" which still stands today at the corner of West Washington Avenue and Broad Street.
Once again we had to rent a third floor hall - no heat - and at that point in time I joined forces with Rose - she taught Hebrew, I taught history. To give you an idea of what it meant to study under...no heat...circumstances … we were most glamorous teachers dressed in coats and long underwear. And the children were dresses in the same fashion. However...we survived - and if my recollection serves me correctly...we had 100% attendance.
The young boys preparing for their Bar Mitzvah had to go to Easton's synagogue for their ritual learning. However, we had the Bar Mitzvah celebration in Washington. Unlike the celebrations today with...caterers...orchestras...and various aids for enjoyment, this festivity became a communal project. The parents were responsible for the renting of the hall, the meats...the beverages - but then the fellow townspeople brought countless varieties of food. In actuality it became similar to a glorified covered dish affair!
It is permissible for one to direct humor at themselves, so I will share this with you. For Arnie Mervish's Bar Mitzvah party I offered to make the cake. In my enthusiasm to outdo myself, instead of making the traditional sheet cake commonly used today...I made a wedding type cake. Tier after tier after tier. Don't ask. It was just as difficult a project as the invasion of Europe during World War #2 to get this cake from my home to the Elk's home where the party was staged.
During this period of time it became quite evident that a movement must be instituted to acquire a permanent place of worship. A few men took it upon themselves to spread the word that we - as a Jewish community - must take action. I shall never forget the night we congregated. 100% in attendance: families from Washington; Oxford; Hampton; Califon. Speeches were made encouraging all to band together and commence a drive to build a synagogue. That night: "A Star Was Born!"
That same night some of the more affluent men came forth with sizable donations. One gentleman in particular named - Louis Brooks - offered us his building on Route 31 South as a temporary location in which to study...worship...and to have social functions. WE WERE ON OUR WAY!
After decades of Jewish life the glorious day had come that Judaism finally had its own home. There it stood in all its white splendor with the Mogen David...the emblem of our faith...beckoning us to enter its portals. It was with great excitement...great joy...and great pride that we all walked on wooden planks laid out as a walkway to enter the synagogue. Sidewalks and the manicuring of the surrounding grounds came later through the generosity of a number of Jewish folks.
At this time it is important to give thanks and appreciation to our benefactor...Mr. Joe Springer...owner of the Washington Underwear factory that is today the apartment building located at the corner of East Washington Avenue and Railroad Avenue. Mr. Springer owned all the land in the factory area and also where the synagogue now resides. It was through his generosity that enabled the Jewish community to now own this land.
On that eventful day we entered our synagogue to find that within the Torah cabinet there were Torahs that were donated by a family named Blum. The Blum family owned a tool factory in Oxford, N.J. there were many other adornments on the pulpit … In the sanctuary that had been donated by various folks. Today our congregation accepts the many pews that are stationary however on that memorable day the sanctuary only had folding chairs. The pews came to the synagogue with a number of years later. Once again through the donations of many of the congregation.
On that eventful day there was much activity. The synagogue obtained its name.Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey...Presiding officials were elected...The ladies auxiliary of the Jewish Center was formed and I am still very honored that I was elected to be the first president. Yes, that day should never be forgotten in the annals of the Jewish center's history. As the days and years progressed there was much activity. We ran many, many functions … open to the public...in order to raise funds, and in recollection I am pleased to say we were successful.
I must not overlook to say that in the very beginning of our new home of worship the lower level area was still not completed. What is now a classroom to the left of the sanctuary was then the kitchen. The only finished area on the lower level were the ladies and men's rooms. Today you have a finished recreational room complete with a stage. My memory reverts back to the many, many plays and programs produced on that same stage. Yes … in yesteryear when that area was finally completed there were many functions presented there.
I shall finalize my writings by making an ardent request of everyone … while in prayer … take a moment and say "THANK YOU" to the countless forefathers of years ago who conceived...labored...and delivered the synagogue we worship in today, it was through their dream...their efforts … THAT...
A START WAS BORN!
Copyright © 2007 Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey
Last updated: November 8, 2007
Last updated: November 8, 2007