04 September 2008

New Jersey: Weequahic's Jewish history

Does Weequahic ring a bell?

If you have a family connection to this Newark, New Jersey neighborhood, here's a new book of interest.

"Images of America: Jews of Weequahic," by Linda B. Forgosh, was reviewed here by Jay Levinson. Although disappointed by the book's lack of serious research, he says it could offer former residents a nostalgic glimpse of the past (1940s-50s).

Our Tollin family lived in Newark and some families also moved to Weequahic, so it was interesting to see the names.
In its heyday Newark, New Jersey boasted one of the largest and most vibrant Jewish communities in the United States. In the early twentieth century the focus of immigrant settlement was in the center-city highlighted by the Prince Street commercial center, but as the second generation entered the work force, the area of residence shifted to a part of the newly developed and quasi-suburban South Ward - the Weequahic neighborhood.
At first the transition from center-city was gradual, but by 1933 Weequahic had its own high school. Not at all surprising, even in its early years a majority of the students were Jewish.

By the early 1950s virtually nothing was left of the old neighborhood, other than a few beleaguered stores and a Reform synagogue whose massive building was hard to sell. For Jews, all eyes were on Weequahic as the place to live.

This book is a major disappointment. Rather than systematically documenting the rise and subsequent fall of a thriving Jewish neighborhood - from a population peak in 1960 to mass flight that left barely a Jew in Weequahic ten years later --- the 128 page paperback has the aura of a bound scrap book.
Weequahic Park was once known as the Waverly Fair Grounds, even though it is outside the neighborhood boundaries.  The reviewer notes information on Weequahic High School and its historic neighborhood rivalries and games. Former Newark residents may find this peek of the past pleasant.

(Images of America: Jews of Weequahic. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing (2008). $19.95. ISBN 13 978-0-7385-5763-2, 10 0-7385-5763-3)

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