28 July 2009

New Jersey: A Sephardic center

With the corruption scandal focused on the Sephardic community in New Jersey, the New York Times featured a story explaining how the state became a magnet for Jews,and specifically, the Sephardic (and Syrian) community.

According to the story

A century ago, Deal, a seaside resort carved from New Jersey farmland, was known as a playground for tycoons and magnates like Isidor Straus and Benjamin Guggenheim and celebrities who visited, including Mark Twain. At lavish “summer cottages,” garden parties raised money for the favorite charities of residents, predominantly Irish Catholics and Ashkenazic Jews who summered there.

By the 1940s, some of the shine had worn off, and the fabulously rich were replaced by the merely wealthy. In the late 1960s, Sephardic Jews who lived in Brooklyn and spent summers in nearby Bradley Beach began buying land in Deal; by 1973, more than 100 families had bought property in the town. By the mid-1990s, thousands of Sephardic Jews were flocking to the town during the summers, and today, local historians estimate, they make up 80 percent of the population.
The influx has led to tensions among the Syrians and the general community in Deal and environs.

The town - with some 1,000 residents - is much larger during the summer, and its streets are lined with kosher delis and Syrian grocers as well as other community essentials for the Orthodox who live there or visit.

This is all relatively new, as 35 years ago, only a pioneering group left Brooklyn for the "frontier," and quickly set up organizations and businesses.

Dr. Richard G. Fernicola, a physician and local historian, said the first Sephardic Jew in the area might well have been Benjamin N. Cardozo, the Supreme Court justice, who had a house in neighboring Allenhurst in the 1930s. The first Syrian Jewish family in Deal arrived in 1939, moving into a home that the singer Enrico Caruso had once regularly visited, said Jim Foley, the town’s historian.
The older generation still speaks Arabic and the Sephardic summer scene is focused on the large houses and properties.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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