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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The New Brunswick Historical Society’s monthly meeting for March was on the topic of the city’s historic synagogues.
Deborah Cohn, an archivist at the Jewish Historical Society of Central Jersey, gave the talk.
Cohn is a longtime member of Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick herself, and speaks fondly of the area’s Jewish history.
“I’m attached to it,” she says, “partly because my husband’s family is here…the history of New Brunswick is partly his family’s history in a way.”
Anshe Emethe was the first synaoguge in New Brunswick and the fourth ever in New Jersey, formed in 1859.
But New Brunswick’s history also includes four other synagogues, including one that is now picking up the pieces after a fire nearly destroyed it last year. Cohn’s talk included great detail on the history of each.
The first Jews in Middlesex County were Sephardic Jews (Jews from Spain or the Middle East) who moved to Bound Brook in 1698.
The Hub City synagogues each followed the same pattern: purchase a cemetery while meeting in more informal settings, purchase a building to use a space of worship, and, finally, hire a rabbi.
The other synagogues founded in New Brunswick were:
- Ahavas Achim in 1889. It was founded by 23 “Russian shtetl men” (a shtetl was a small Jewish village in Eastern Europe). This was a result of a general influx of Eastern Europe Jews immigrating to the United States. These Jews tended to be more Orthodox, or observant.
- Poile Zedek in 1901. This is the synagogue that was badly damaged in a fire in 2015.
- Ohav Emet, which was founded in 1919 by Hungarian immigrants. Being Hungarian was a significant part of the synagogue’s identity until it was forced to drop it to attract enough members to sustain itself.
- Etz Chaim in 1927. When it was founded, it was the only Sephardic congregation in New Jersey. It saw itself as an extension of the Greek community from which its members originated.
In the 1950’s, the synagogues were thriving. All except for Anshe Emeth and Poile Zedek moved to Highland Park, which is where the Jews were moving.
Anshe Emeth is the only synagogue remaining in New Brunswick, after a fire badly damaged Poile Zedek in October 2015.
Today, the identity at Anshe Emeth is “very much linked to New Brunswick.”
The New Brunswick Historical Society hosts events like this once a month, and they are promoted on the City of New Brunswick’s official website.