Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Eden in the Garden State

The first residents of the current state of New Jersey were Dutchmen from New Amsterdam (New York) who settled Jersey City in 1614. Some historians claim that in 1655, some Jews from New Amsterdam settled on the eastern shore of the Delaware River (i.e. present day New Jersey).

While Jewish merchants from Philadelphia and New York conducted business in New Jersey in the 17th century, organized Jewish communities did not arrive in the “Garden State” until the middle of the 19th century. Aaron and Jacob Lozada owned a grocery store and hardware store in Bound Brook in 1718. In 1722, Daniel Nunez served as town clerk and tax collector for Piscataway Township, and Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County. David Naar of Perth Amboy, participated in New Jersey’s constitutional convention in 1844, became mayor of Elizabeth in 1849 and was a key player in introducing the first public school and public library in Trenton.

While the state’s first congregations were established respectively in 1847 in Paterson and in Newark in 1848, New Jersey’s capital city, Trenton, saw the creation of the state’s first organized Jewish community in the 1840s and incorporated its first cemetery in 1857. Trenton’s Har Sinai Congregation opened its doors in 1858. Communities were established in New Brunswick (1861), Jersey City (1864), Bayonne (1878), Elizabeth (1881), Vineland (1882), Perth Amboy (1890), Atlantic City (1890), Camden (1891, Englewood (1896) and Passaic (1899.)

At the turn of the 20th century, Newark became a mecca for eastern European Jewish immigrants, but, in 1967, the Jewish community began heading to the suburbs of Livingston, Millburn and the Oranges, especially after the riots.

In 2017, New Jersey, the state with the densest population (after the District of Columbia) had a Jewish population of 545,450. Currently, the largest concentrations of Jews can be found in Bergen County (83,000), Essex County (76,000), Monmouth County (65,000), Middlesex County (45,000) and Cherry Hill (49,000). Of note is the burgeoning community moving into the coastal city of Lakewood, and its environs, where the Beth Medrash Govoha, now considered the second largest yeshiva in the world, was established in 1943, as an elite center of Torah scholarship by its visionary founder, Rabbi Aaron Kotler. It is estimated that over 50% of the 104,157 citizens of Lakewood Township are Orthodox.

On December 18, 1787, New Jersey became the third state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. 

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