New York and New Jersey are next-door neighbor states and there is quite a bit of cooperation (as well as competition) that goes on between our two states. A bit to my chagrin, several of my school mates have moved from NYC to parts of New Jersey, and to be honest, I rarely visit them there but instead get together with them when they visit Brooklyn or Manhattan.

But I do get into New Jersey for various reasons. I admit that most often I drive through New Jersey on the Way to Somewhere Else, such as Pennsylvania or Maryland. Sometimes I do actually visit or conduct research in parts of New Jersey. Yes, I realize this my New Yorker bias at work. Just being frank.

This past Sunday I paid a visit to the Jewish Museum of New Jersey, which is housed in the synagogue Ahavas Sholom. This is one of the few surviving shuls of Newark, which used to have a few dozen strong congregations. By the 1970s most had gone, largely due to Jewish population shifts out of Newark into suburbs. Yes, this is often dubbed "white flight" and was at least partly spurred on by the rioting in Newark which took place in the early-mid 1960s.

Newark has had its bad times but it is definitely improving in many ways. A brief visit to the downtown area and even to outlying sections such as the Ironbound and other parts, will show you much new construction and renovation that is going on. There are a number of cultural and entertainment spots and features in the city and the quality of life is on the upswing.

The Hebraic Heyday of Newark will likely not return but Ahavas Sholom, as well as a Chabad congregation and a largely African-American congregation are still doing nicely. And Ahavas Sholom, a pretty and well-maintained shul, also provides Jewish education and cultural experiences with its museum.

Currently showing here is an exhibit about the lost synagogues as well as active ones throughout the history of Newark, which this year turned 350 years old. The exhibit focuses on the many congregations that have come and gone, including archival pieces on display, A great deal of research went into creating this exhibit and I had a minor role in aiding this, in my role as the Lost Synagogues Lady. A team of dedicated Newark-area (and alumni) Jews including Phil Yourish, Max Herman, Harold Kravis, Mark Gordon, Tim Lee, Linda Lobdell, and others worked many hours on researching the histories of the old congregations, locating descendants of clergy and lay leaders instrumental in this shuls, finding and analyzing memorial plaques, and developing a wonderful display for the exhibit. Among the organizations that helped out and provided material were the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey, the Newark Public Library and the Newark 350 Committee.

I attended the opening where over 100 people came to see the material and each other, offer up their memories of long-gone places and Jewish religious experiences, and connect with one another. I was particularly pleased to see that some young and youngish people did attend, for they had family ties to Newark's old synagogues and wanted to learn more about their parents and grand parents and great-grand parents participation in Newark's Jewish life.

One of the most endearing pieces in this exhibit is a stained glass window featuring a Jewish star and two menorahs. This came from the long-gone synagogue Rodgei Shalom, which was demolished for the construction of a public school in the 1970s.

I was pleased to have attended this event, even though I had a bit of a lengthy shlep to make to and from the museum-synagogue. I had to take a NYC subway as well as the NJ-NYC Path train and then I biked from the main station, Newark Penn. On the way back I pedaled past Christian parishioners who left a few of the area churches to go home after their afternoon services. My ride was peaceful and contemplative, at times uphill and at others easily level. That's Newark for you.

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