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The Landsmanshaftn of Newark

By Nat Bodian


        In the aging and neglected Jewish cemeteries of Newark, in Vailsburg and on the City's southeast border, are plots bearing the names of unique organizations that flourished for half a century, from the 1880s to the 1930s, in Newark's Jewish community -- the Landsmanshaftn.

        The Landsmanshaftn were mutual-aid societies whose membership consisted of immigrants who were fellow townsmen from an Eastern European town or village1, now settled in America, who met, and often prayed on a regular basis.

        The Landsmanshaftn in Newark came from towns and villages (shtetls) and local groups carried such names as Warschauer, Chudnover, Boryslawer, Tarnapole, Bialystoker, Berdichover, Minsker, Bolechower, Gombiner, Rzeszower, and Robeshower Chelmer.

        Usually the town or village name was accompanied by a set of initials such as Y. F. B. A. (Young Friends Benevolent Association), or Y. F. B. S. (Young Friends Benevolent Society), or just B. S. (for Benevolent Society).  Groups of German origin identified as K. U. V. for Kranken Unterstitzung Verein.  There were other initialisms as well.

        Their meetings were both social and cultural affairs and most also usually sponsored an annual dinner-dance.  My parents belonged to one such Landsmanshaftn society, named after the East Galician village of my father's birth, and always attended their annual dinner-dance while their age and health permitted it.  They are buried in the society's cemetery.

Purpose of Landsmanshaftn

        The fellowships of fellow townsmen served a variety of purposes, the main ones being to retain the Jewish culture of their heritage while reconciling these loyalties to their newfound American identity.

        The common missions of most of the Landsmanshaftn was to provide medical care2, reimbursement of lost wages during illness, life insurance, funeral costs, emergency assistance, and small interest-free loans, and, most important of all, a cemetery plot in an area owned by the society.

Newark's Jewish Cemetery Locales

        The burial plots of the Newark Landshaftn are scattered among the 113 Newark Jewish cemeteries.  The largest is the Grove Street Cemetery established in 1901 at 211-304 Grove Street.  It has 37 separate burial grounds, containing the remains of Eastern European immigrants.

        Other cemeteries in the same Vailsburg area include the Talmud Torah opposite 616 South Orange Avenue and bounded by Whitney Street with 24 burial sections dedicated in 1921 and the Union Field Cemetery on 532 South Orange Avenue, located behind the Pabst building, and bounded on the other three sides by Grove Street, 14th Avenue, and 19th Street.  The complex at this site contains 24 burial sections.

        The bulk of the remaining cemeteries are a complex of 27 known as The McClellan Street Cemeteries located at, or close to, the intersection of McClellan Street and Mt. Olivet Avenue, just off Route 1, near the Newark-Elizabeth border.  The McClellan Cemeteries were established in the 1890s.

        Nearly all are in neighborhoods that are dangerous to visit, except on days sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation of Metrowest (973-929-3065).

        My wife's parents and sister are buried on Grove Street and we make an annual visit to the Grove Street Cemetery, on a Sunday between the High Holidays, when police protection is advertised and provided for the protection and safety of cemetery visitors.

Stepping Stone to Americanism

        The Landsmanshaftn movement was an important and major stepping stone for its immigrant members that helped cushion the transition of life from the Old World to the New, and from a usually rural environment to a new, intimidating urban landscape, language, and culture.

One-Generation Movement

        Like its counterparts elsewhere, the Newark Landsmanshaftn movement was basically a one-generation movement.  It died as its members died, or as they or their children moved from the old Third Ward to better neighborhoods, first to Clinton Hill, then to the Weequahic Section and, ultimately, to more fashionable homes in the suburbs.

        The Landsmanshaftn-sponsored synagogues, for the most part, vanished, bereft of its organizers and abandoned by their children.

        From examining the town names of Newark's Jewish burial plots, I estimate there were 40-50 Landsmanshaftn by the time that Newark's Jewish population peaked at around 75,000 in the mid 1930s.

        Whatever their number, they served their members well, first in their transition to a new life in America and to urban living in Newark, and, upon their death, provided a final resting place for their remains.

        Today, they are but a distant memory for the children and grandchildren of their beneficiaries, and, like Newark's once vibrant Jewish community, and Newark's old Third Ward, they no longer exist.

Selected Landsmanshaft Burial Plots

Grove Street Cemetery:

bulletAustrian-Hungarian Congregation
bulletBrisker Congregation
bulletChevra Tillium
bulletAnshe Lubovitz
bulletAnshe Romania
bulletAnshe Russia
bulletAnshe Warsaw
bulletErste Bolechover

Talmud Torah Cemetery:

bulletChevra Tillum
bulletErste Lubarer
bulletErste Ostricher
bulletFirst Ostropoler
bulletIndependent Lubarer
bulletJersey Warshower
bulletN. J. Oestreicher

Union Field Cemetery:

bulletAnshe Romania
bulletIndependent Brisker
bulletLinith Nazader
bulletJersey Warshower
bulletRheim Ahuvin
bulletUngarische Ostricher
bulletRuzow Ahava

McClellan Street Cemeteries:

bulletFirst Austrian
bulletFirst Bershader
bulletFirst Bolechover
bulletFirst Robishower Chelmer
bulletFirst Rzeszower
bulletGomel Chesed
bulletRehim Ahuvim

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