It's a dusty, nostalgic chore: Jerry Nathans
spends most of his
afternoons packing up a collection of paintings, memorabilia, mobiles, watercolors, posters, antiques and photographs.
The 79-year-old Wayne resident has spent nearly 30 years preserving Jewish history in northern New Jersey.Although he
is closing his
intends to continue collecting for future generations.
purchased it in 1972, installed a large circular drive and opened the shop/gallery the following year.
..."They called us and now I have all four," says Nathans, who got the call because he founded the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey.
A portion of the historical society's collection is being stored at Nathans' Art Gallery
.Other artifacts and oral histories are housed at William Paterson University
"I'm the only meshuggene around" who knows what's in the 250 huge boxes outgrowing the space at WPU, Nathans
says, using a Yiddish word that translates, loosely, as "crazy person."Nathans
, who established the historical society in 1979, is looking for a centrally located home for his
Jewish history collection so it can be studied by scholars and students.
In fact, that's how the historical society started.Nathans
was at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey
in Wayne in 1978 when a woman asked librarian Sylvia Firschein, in the Charles and Bessie Goldman Judaica Library
, for information about her
"The librarian put out a request for oral histories, and I was one of the first to respond," says Nathans
, formerly of Paterson.
...The Barnert family paintings are stored next to a giant menorah that was rejected by the Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne where Nathans served as president.
"Because the main candle, or shamus, was on the same level as the others and not raised, it was rejected by the rabbi," Nathans
A banner that found its way to Nathans
literally came from the streets of Paterson.The blue-and-gold banner features the six-pointed Star of David and crossed American and Israeli flags.A homeless man was using it as a blanket whenit was retrieved by police, who gave it to the Paterson Museum
, The museum passed it on to Nathans
Collecting artifacts, however, is only part of the mission.Nathans also searches Jewish cemeteries and the Jewish sections of Christian cemeteries, looking for burial spots of peoples' ancestors.
"Just a few days ago, I got a call from a woman who is looking for her
uncle, who was a principal in Paterson between 1915 and 1920," Nathans
discovered that information in an old city directory.
On another occasion, he
got a call from a New Jersey woman who later moved to Washington state, asking about a deceased uncle.Nathans
located the grave in the Passaic Junction Cemetery in Saddle Brook.
contacts companies like Knoble Construction Company, which does grounds maintenance for area cemeteries. Nathans
says the historical society has become a one-man show since the death of his
wife Rita in 1999.But the job of chronicling 160 years of Jewish history in northern New Jersey remains critically important.He
invites people interested in the preservation of Jewish history to contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by telephone at 973-785-9119 or write Jewish Historical Society
, P.O. Box 708, West Paterson, NJ 07424.