FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — The story of Monmouth County's Jewish residents is the story of the county itself, says township resident Michael Berman — and that story is about to be told.
Berman is co-president of the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, a local nonprofit dedicated to opening a museum of the same name in Freehold Township.
After about six months of construction, Berman recently predicted that the museum will open to the public by late May or early June. Renovations are ongoing at the museum, which will be housed in a large, gray barn at the Mount's Corner shopping center, Route 537 and Wemrock Road.
The barn originally was owned by descendants of 18th-century Jewish tavern keeper Levi Solomon, Berman said. It is believed to be part of the first Jewish farm settlement in the county.
Artifacts, photographs and oral histories will illustrate the lives of the county's Jewish residents, while a timeline will detail Jewish settlement beginning with the first Jewish peddlers in the early 1700s through the wealthy summer visitors in the 19th-20th centuries. The museum will also include the Jewish chicken farmers from the 1930s.
Jewish settlements have sprung up throughout the county, from the wealthy Sephardic Jews in Deal to the more modest homesteaders in the western Monmouth County town of Roosevelt, where unemployed Jewish New York City garment workers came during the Great Depression to begin a cooperative.
The group's co-president Jean Klerman of Fair Haven, says the museum idea goes back to the nation's bicentennial in the mid-1970s. She co-authored a book on Monmouth County's Jewish history following that event.
Berman also chairs the Freehold Township historic Preservation Commission. Developer Bernard Hochberg agreed to preserve the barn and the Solomon home in return for permission to build a shopping center. Originally slated to be a farming museum, the Jewish history museum was considered a better use.
Hochberg and his business partner donated the space and are funding the building's renovations. The 3,000-square-foot museum will be on the barn's second story with a restaurant on the first floor.
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