Wild River Review
Wild River Review
Connecting People, Places, and Ideas: Story by Story
May 2010
Open Borders
 

February 10, 2010

Forgotten by time, a Pastrami Sandwich and cup of Matzo Ball Soup brings memories to life.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

Take a trip down to the “old country” in Newark to discover hidden gems- mostly unknown to outsiders.  You will find a treasure trove for lovers of Jewish history and what remains from the bad old days during the 1960’s surprises even the most jaded of both Newark residents and other New Jerseyans.

Yesterday, I invited Rabbi Joe Forman to join me for a tour of the last remaining Synagogues in Newark, NJ.  While we traipsed around some less than desirable neighborhoods we noticed something unexpected.  There is resurgence happening RIGHT NOW  in Newark.  The former sense of abandonment is being replaced by a sense of pride of place and pride of reconstruction.  After a few hours of research on the Internet, we took the high road (Rt. 280) down to Ahavas Sholom, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Oheb Shalom, and B’nai Abraham .  It was immediately clear to me that longevity of some of these temples is based in fact that the Black community respects the Jews, hence the availability of “REAL” Jewish Soul Food in the ghetto.  Groups like the Jews and the Black community thrive today on the mutual respect, of being “outsiders” amongst others in Newark.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

L1010457

Driving around in downtown Newark can be a lesson in futility.  Streets end in dead ends, others drive into “secure” areas around the Essex County Courthouse. Even my nearly new GPS got us lost, several times… Around and around we drove, looking for the hidden-the secret and the preserved due to this mutual respect or religion and a shared passion for great deli food.

We started our tour in near the Belleville border; the old Prince Street neighborhood was once a thriving Jewish ghetto… all gone.  The memories have faded, the energy mostly gone.  The streets are a mish-mash of bodegas; buildings without windows-their facades are standing with nothing behind them, as if waiting for a movie to be shot out front.  There are no people on the streets, hardly any cars to be seen. This part of Newark is still a real disappointment, as we hoped to find some semblance of normality. There are none.  It’s pretty much bombed out here.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

As a counterpoint to the desolation on Prince Street, sits a particularly bombed out section of town. Oheb Shalom Congregation is in the process of being restored by the enthusiastic and kind- Robin Dougherty and the Newark Conservancy.  It’s hard to believe that this Moorish gem of a building was due to be demolished to make room for the Society Hill development.  The inside of this former Synagogue is rife with the ghosts of the past.  This area, now mostly empty lot upon empty lot is filled with sustainable gardens and the energetic staff who are restoring this National Register of Historic Places temple.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

L1010475

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

Moving down to the bustling downtown part of Newark, the faces change, the buildings are striking.  Lower floors are thriving; the upper floors seem to be abandoned attracting multitudes of pigeons and the hawks that feed upon them.  Over on Branford Place and Washington Street sits Hobby’s Delicatessen.  This is our first food stop for a bowl of classic Matzo Ball Soup.  Thick with egg noodles and placed directly in the middle there is a gigantic hand formed, soft to the tooth Matzo Ball.  Oblong in shape clearly made with love.  I slurped this down and ended up wearing most of the noodles on my shirt.  A Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry soda was similarly inhaled.  I had no idea that driving around looking at historic buildings would require so much energy!

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

Setting off towards the South Ward, Rabbi Joe and I stumbled upon a few more historic Synagogues.  All seemed to be turned into churches. That fact alone may preserve them for the years to come.  We were able to visit a few more buildings, mostly from the outside.  Refreshing to see so many historic buildings being re-used for the good of the community.  Hunger from the driving around was creeping up again and we drove up to the Newark/Hillside border for a trip to Bragman’s Delicatessen on Hawthorne Avenue.  This specific neighborhood used to have at least a dozen Jewish Delis.  Now, only Bragman’s exists.  The food here is Jewish Soul Food.  Our faces and that of the kind owner are in stark contrast to the neighborhood.  Not that this area is unfriendly, just the imagery here is striking.  Pastrami with chopped liver is on the menu, along with all the standards of Jewish Deli cooking…The scene here is better than watching television.  The chopped liver is sweet, the pastrami and corned beef, hand trimmed, sliced fatty (my favorite way) and the pickles always half-sour and crunchy.  If I ate here every day, I’d be as big as a house, as evidenced by the profusion of loyal customers who crowd the restaurant, the line can go out the door and down the block.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

After our stomach filling lunch, we were planning to go back to Morristown, but we came across the hulking building that is Temple B’nai Abraham.  Here, on an otherwise forlorn street standing strongly against the poverty that fills this neighborhood, Temple B’nai Abraham is still being used as a house of worship, which may explain the reason why it has been preserved for the last forty years.  tbacinton2

No longer a Synagogue, Temple B’nai Abraham is now a Gospel House of Deliverance.  We happened to drive up, just as a van from the New Jersey Institute of Technology pulled into the driveway!  Maybe there was a chance to see inside?  We got really lucky. The answer is yes!  We were afforded a tour that only an architecture class would be given the opportunity to enjoy.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

Winding our way though history of Newark from the eyes of an architecture class is a gift that few have enjoyed, we listened attentively and with passion.  A walk up to the top of the magnificent stained glass window gave pause.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

I took home memories that will follow me for many years to come.

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

Wild River Review/ Wild Table editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ. A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at CAVS / MIT.

He worked for many years in the corporate world.

Wild Table has bits of visual poetry, terroir and food commentaries. In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com, NJ Monthly, NJ Savvy Living and NJ Life Magazine.  Warren continues to traverse the print-scape and is writing for the Morris Cty., NJ Daily Record for their restaurant and their features column.

He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of organic and biodynamic wine.

Warren is a contributing author for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2.

Warren’s interview for Eco-Motown.

Saveur Magazine’s 100 list for 2010 as #30, the Tuna Melt.  Named to the Saveur Magazine 100 list.

Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @WarrenBobrow1

photo: Warren Bobrow

photo: Warren Bobrow

postscript:  I just learned from my 90 something something year old grandmother our family were members at B’nai Abraham.  She told me that we owned seats for Holiday time.  Over 2000 Jewish families from this area were members!

24 Comments »

  1. Warren, B’Nai Abraham is staggeringly impressive. That has just got to be restored to use. Were the accoustics good? Could it be a music hall if there is no local congregation to support it as a Temple?

    Comment by William Irwin Thompson — February 10, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  2. Warren, as someone who was once lost in Newark when trying to find EWR, I can tell you I felt the aura of the streets and the nostalgia of lives lived and hope still growing in your words and images. The beautiful Prairie School stained glass was breathtaking. The palmettes around the rotunda (exterior) of the last cupola/rotunda are just like those of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC.

    Comment by Cheryl Smithem — February 10, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

  3. you could hear a pin drop from the back of the shul. whispering could be heard in all the way to the rafters!

    Comment by wbobrow — February 10, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

  4. Beautiful photography – respect will always live on

    Comment by julie — February 10, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

  5. Yes Warren watching real people sure beats T.V.! Loved the inside of the worship house, great architecture. Writing was magnificent as usual. Keep up the good work, and if the Jews and Blacks can respect and get along, then so shall all of us.
    Peace, Rob Benner

    Comment by Robert S Benner — February 10, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

  6. Finally, a writer (Mr. Warren Bobrow) has visually captured the positive light of a brilliant city all too often shrouded by negativity and untruths…Kudos Warren! Proof again, Newark is more than an airport.

    Comment by Daniel Rosati — February 10, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  7. Oh my goodness, I love this. I love visits to the ‘old’ ghosts, and it is sad that where I come from, Texas, we tear down the old and replace with new (not that we had old, like this part of the country).

    Warren, thanks for teasing me with that sandwich with mustard…am I allowed to say, but this experience must have been orgasmic, all in all.

    We must have a lunch together, you, Adrienne and I- Deli food PLEASE!

    Comment by Chef E — February 10, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

  8. Bitter sweet and hopeful. I found this piece both bitter sweet and hopeful. Magnificent buildings as monuments to the past, yet with such a spirit of revival looking to the future. Thank you for sharing this…

    Comment by Tatiana — February 10, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

  9. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by WarrenBobrow1: A visit to Newark, NJ for history, tears and a Pastrami Sandwich. Matzo Ball soup too. http://bit.ly/bPu6JV...

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments — February 10, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

  10. What a great day/story! Beautiful pictures and amazing-looking/sounding lunch.

    Comment by Veronique Deblois — February 10, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

  11. A very pretty photo-essay, the pastrami sandwich looks really good and “old school” in a good way. This should be sent to Mayor Cory Booker, the photo essay, not the sandwich. If the mayor wants a sandwich, have him go to the deli!

    Comment by Frank — February 10, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

  12. These are just gorgeous photos! A great documentary job.

    Comment by Lois Heyman — February 10, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  13. I think you should invite Cory Booker to the deli.

    Comment by Joy E. Stocke — February 10, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

  14. Warren,
    This is a wonderful article. The ghosts of Newark are our ghosts. Our history. Just mentioning Bragman’s to my parents released a flood of happy memories! The photos are beautiful. And now I’m craving a pickle! Thank you.

    Comment by Andrea Wallick — February 10, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

  15. I would love to see a documentary based on this report. With some people stories. Some recipes and how the foods are prepared.

    The Newark Riots destroyed so much more than anyone thought. None of it was justified. So much beauty and a city which could be so much more than it is today. The Jewish population is gone now? Gone to nicer more affluent places. And not coming back either. Too bad Newark. You lost out.

    Comment by NJPThompson — February 10, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

  16. What a wonderful way to go thru downtown Newark and seeing & eating the gifts that have always been there but are not appreciated today. Seeing it thru someone else’s lense, always gives you a different perspective of how beautiful the world real is.

    Comment by Kristine — February 10, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

  17. A good piece on Newark history. Newark so represents our US history… good and bad! Newark also has the diversity and richness of the Jewish experience in the US. I am amazed how so many younger people have no sense of that history! I moved to Newark ten years ago as a refugee from NYC rents.. and knew zilch about Newark myself! Thank you for interesting narrative, good photos!

    Comment by ProfMike — February 10, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

  18. I have never been to Newark and it’s doubtful I ever will go there. However Warren’s magnificent piece with beautiful imagery has allowed me a vicarious journey to an area that
    is full of history and change. I thoroughly enjoyed the trials and description of a rather hard to navigate destiny. I was so hungry by the time we got to the restaurant. From
    Warren’s words and pictures he was just killing me! I would so love some matzoh ball soup and that sandwich. Oh mercy, I could just smell it from the picture and wished
    we had something like that (even remotely) here in Hawaii. The history of these buildings caught up in social change is stunning. Thanks Warren for taking me on a trip
    and also making me really really hungry! Thankfully I think I’ll go make some furikake crusted marlin with fresh baby bok choy and long beans! Keep up the great writing
    Warren you are truly gifted and express your thoughts so very well! Aloha & A hui hou!

    Comment by Marianne Schultz — February 10, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  19. As always your photos and writing truly put one in the moment…I personally would have opted for the Dr. Browns celery soda to wash down lunch.

    Comment by Mark Drabich — February 11, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  20. Great article Warren – a good read with awesome pics and has me wanting to drive around Newark (though maybe with 2 GPS units) even though I had never given it a thought before.

    Comment by Adam Darack — February 11, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  21. Warren, you have revisited what must have been the crown jewel in Newark Temples. The rich Jewish heritage that was flourishing in Newark at the time our ancestors disembarked from the old world must have been very welcoming. I can only imagine that one of my forbearers attended service at one of the Temples you redicovered. Newark was truly the gateway for so many Jewish families that lived and prospered there. That was the spring board for the hardworking successful families that spread out over Northern and Central New Jersey. Great job on reminding many of us that a part who we are today, germinated in the ground we call Newark.

    Comment by A. Rogers — February 11, 2010 @ 11:50 am

  22. I loved the way this article took me through the city, one I haven’t been in for many years. The descriptions of the temples and of the food are as telling as the awesome photography. This really makes me want to revisit the city for the history and the wonderful delis. Great work, Warren!

    Comment by Susan Hilger — February 11, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  23. Dear Warren!
    Greetings!
    Although I’m a die-hard agnostic, I can appreciate the great historical value of your posting!
    Great pics as usual, although you should talk to your web designer, the pics are “everywhere”! No amrgins. Fine for a big PC maybe, but lapatop ownere will have to scroll sideways!LOL
    Cheers and all that!
    Robert-Gilles

    Comment by Robert-Gille Martineau — February 11, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

  24. Dear Warren!
    Always in a hurry!
    Do correct my typos and erase this message!
    LOL
    Robert-Gilles

    Comment by Robert-Gille Martineau — February 11, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress

Archives