22 April 2009

New Jersey: Jewish Roots in Paterson

Paterson and Northern New Jersey attracted many of our ancestors from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Many immigrants from Lodz and from Bialystock worked in the silk mills, raised their families and built their lives there.

Roni Seibel Liebowitz, one of several prominent genealogists originally from Paterson, sent Tracing the Tribe information about the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey. Mark Halpern, program chair of the Philly 2009 conference, is a Bialystoker descendant who lived in Paterson as a young boy.

Tracing the Tribe first called attention to Jerry Nathans and his memorabilia collection focused on Paterson in this May 2007 post, which describes some of the holdings:

Jerry Nathans is the last guardian of Paterson, New Jersey's Jewish past. President of the JHSNJ, he's spent three decades collecting artifacts and information about the city 's (and environs) history.

Although the society was once a thriving group of 70 and sponsored lectures, exhibits and other events, Nathans is now alone as the caretaker of 150 years packed into 300 boxes. ...

Tracing the Tribe later reported on Roni and Mark's plans for Paterson descendants at the upcoming Philly 2009 conference in Philadelphia.

JGSNJ president Jerry Nathans, 81, is the keeper of a vast collection of artifacts, photographs, documents, paintings, and memorabilia collected over the past 20 years.

In its prime, the society sponsored exhibits, presentations, and other programs about the area's Jewish life. It collected oral histories and photographs, and published newsletters and the history of Paterson.

The YM-YHWA in Wayne, New Jersey was the society's original home until it ran out of space. Material was packed in 300 boxes and stored in diverse locations. Until recently, the boxes were at William Paterson University and inaccessible to the public. Researchers and individuals could no longer donate family treasures and no one could access documents.

Nathans kept working to follow every lead to find an appropriate home for the archive. When Roni met with him in November 2008, he was still looking for a home for the material. Finally, in late March 2009, an agreement was reached with the Barnert Medical Arts Complex in Paterson.

This month, Jerry began moving all the boxes to the new facility. Volunteers are now unpacking and cataloging 100 years of history, and the Jewish Standard covered the story.

The Philly 2009 conference will also feature a Paterson Birds-of-a-feather meeting at the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 2-7, in Philadelphia.

For more information, email the JHSNNJ.

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