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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Selected Landsmanshaft Burial Plots
Grove Street Cemetery: