History of Shuls and Religious Life in Paterson, NJ

From the turn of the twentieth century, the level of observance in Jewish life in Paterson varied with Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed congregations. The synagogues in those days of old became the focus for individual communities interacting and participating with others through the Jewish communal institutions that the earlier generations had worked so hard to establish.

Not only did these congregants observe Shabbat, they also insured that their children learned how to read and speak Hebrew so that they could pray and live as Jews. The congregations also helped support the newly formed State of Israel in 1948 by collecting money and clothing and providing moral support for this massive undertaking. They sold Israel bonds and brought over Israelis to teach in the Hebrew schools. And secular Jews organized several Yiddish-language schools to teach their children yiddishkeit, Yiddish culture. They did this with as much fervor, as did their more observant friends and relatives.

Fast -forward to 2015. When one talks of Paterson today, it's not as much where can I find a Shul as much as it is where can I find Rt. 4 East toward Fair Lawn and Teaneck or Rt. 20 towards Passaic. You can find some excerpts below but you should get a hold of the book: Jews of Paterson, by David Wilson, whom I met recently at the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey's recent celebration/move from Paterson to Fair Lawn (talk about Aliyah). He's a terrific historian and wrote an inscription in his book for me. His card and contact info is below should anyone have any inquiries.


History of Jews iof Patersoninscription_book

Since I moved to Fair Lawn in the year 2000, I have always been curious about Paterson and I try to introduce a member of the Fair Lawn community to the prospect of joining me on my annual pilgrimage to Paterson includes the Tashlich prayers right after Rosh Hashannah's over when I can drive up to the Great Falls of Pateson, the second largest active water falls in the United States second only to Niagara Falls. It's truly impressive when you walk the bridge over the falls and make your way to the park benches on the other side. There's plenty of peace and quiet there.

If you want to visit it's located at 72 McBride Avenue and it's quite impressive from atop or from below (http://www.nps.gov/pagr/index.htm) and I know that they are finishing up on a restoration project for this historical site. There's even an app called the Mill Mile app!

I also know that my 5-year old son Daniel and 8-year old daughter Ruthie enjoy ringing a bell that's left from the Revolutionary War Period, when Alexander Hamilton stood by the Great Falls and declared Paterson as America's first great manufacturing center. In the mid-nineteenth century, Paterson was the national center of car manufacturing. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth, silk became the key industry, where many Eastern European textilers moved and migrated there.

The following is made possible courtesy of the Paterson Jewish Historical Society.

That's me and Jerry Nathans, curator of the Historical Society who was happy to hear about all this

If you drive through the entire city of Paterson looking for a synagogue the only one you'll find from the outside is a bright yellow building with a giant menorah on it with the words Templo Shalom. However, it's far from what we know as modern Judaism today. It's located at: 586 Main Street.

Templo Shalom


I also know that there is an all-men's Yeshiva called Yeshiva Gedolah of Paterson located at: 561 Park Avenue led by Rabbi Elyah Chaim Swerdloff. I met him once along with a couple dozen of his students a few years when there was a black-out in Paterson but not in Fair Lawn, when they walked down Rt. 4 and piled into Shomrei Torah's basement Bais Medrash. However they don't advertise an outside Minyan, nor do the young men leave the premises often. I do see them at times at the Elmwood Park Pathmark.

Then there's that one amazing fortress-looking building that is the most obvious structure that once stood to be one of the largest synagogues in the area  I'm talking about what used to be Temple Emmanuel, which is at the corner of Broadway and East 33rd Street, just a 15-minute walk from my house in Fair Lawn. I've never been inside, but I did get a peak at it when they vacated in 2008 just a few years after they vacated and relocated the congregation in Franklin Lakes. I got a chance to wlak inside when they were taking down the most spectacular stained glass windows I've seen. Twenty-two of them.

You have to walk (or drive) over the Broadway Bridge/Rt. 4 West.

Broadway NJ Route 4 Bridge over the Passaic River, New Jersey{C}




Temple Emanuel was established as a conservative congregation to consecrate a place where the Jews of Paterson and vicinity might worship in a manner adaptable to the American way of life and yet adhere to the customs of traditional Judaism.

The inside space offered 1,000 orchestra seats, 252 balcony seats and a 10,000-square-foot main theater with an adjacent 8,000-square-foot ballroom. Now that's a mega shul if I ever heard of one.

In 1928, the president of the the previous home for Temple Emmanuel, Jacob Fabian, a vaudeville and movie theater owner, contributed $400,000 toward the building of this spectacular building.

Today, Temple Emanuel still stands as an exuberant limestone and brick building that features a wealth of Art Deco design elements, including a massive octagonal sanctuary with bronze filigree entrance doors and what was once twenty-one stained glass panels framed with bold geometric motifs that depict Biblical scenes. Wood pews radiate from the dais, which fronts a marble ark.

Upon further Googling, Temple Emanuel symbolized the rising affluence of Paterson's Jewish community in the 1920s, when the prosperity of silk and other industries in Paterson enabled many Jews to move from downtown, where they had settled and built the congregation's first home, to fashionable neighborhoods, such as Eastside Park where Emanuel is located.

Temple Emanuel thrived for roughly 40 years. But by the 1970s, Paterson's industrial base was in decline, and its Jewish community was moving, with the rest of the white middle class, to the suburbs. The Jewish population of Paterson, which numbered 30,000 in the 1940s, included fewer than 1,000 members at the end of the millennium.

As more and more of Paterson's Jewish population moved out of Paterson to the suburbs, the congregation merged with another in the 1980s, and in 1995 opted to build a new house of worship in nearby Franklin Lakes.

Then, if you proceed two lights West on Broadway, which turns into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and you take a right turn on E. 27th Street, you can see a 10-story brick building called the Jewish Federation Apartments (https://www.google.com/maps/place/Federation+Apartments/@40.920365,-74.147258,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x89c2fc6a0b967e37:0x643b34d640ead7de?hl=en)

While Jewish residents are still in the majority the facility was founded by the Jewish community in 1971  more than half of them are Russian.

From what I understand, residents must be 62 or older, with an income below $40,000. The apartments are owned by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Back in the 1970s it had a terrific neighbor just across the street  the Yavneh Academy (now in Paramus where my kids go). It was a great location. There still is a school across the street from the apartment building, but it's the Rosa Parks school for Perfoming Arts. (http://www.paterson.k12.nj.us/schools/rphs/)














While somewhat common in 1920s theatre designs, there are few religious buildings that use this vernacular and even for the art deco buildings, the vocabulary of design and decoration in Temple Emanuel is unusual. From the exterior, the gray granite exterior is restrained. The two entry lanterns at either end of the entrance anchor the stairs and shape the processional entry. The overall effect is reminiscent of Expressionist architecture popular in Germany and throughout Europe at the period combined with the art deco theatre buildings in the States. Members of the congregation report that Wentworth hired a synagogue specialist in his office, Abraham Goodman, to assist in the design of the building.

After the synagogue's congregation left in 2005, a new owner had plans to reuse the building as a community arts center. The owner sought local designation for the building, but due to a political battle, the nomination did not pass. When the new owner bought the synagogue, they signed a covenant with the sellers, stating that the sellers had three years to exercise the option of removing the stained-glass windows. The sellers decided to exercise this option, and in 2008 the former congregation starting removing many important architectural features of the synagogue for use in their new place of worship. After an intense legal battle, the new owners were forced to give up the significant windows. While the windows have been removed, the building still remains safe. The new owners are having new windows manufactured in China that replicate the originals as best as possible. They are pursuing tax credits with the intention of restoring the building and are looking for a new use for it. The owners are also pursuing local designation again, after the previously failed attempt.


gregation relocated to Franklin Lakes, now known as Temple Emanuel of North Jersey

Vacated four years ago, after its congregation moved to Franklin Lakes, the grand art deco building, located on Broadway and East 33rd Street, inspired lots of wishful thinking.

Would it become a museum? A community center? A lavish concert hall?

In April 2009, after a handful of shows had been staged in the building, which was then being called the Great Falls Performing Arts Center, The Record's Jim Beckerman wrote, "It could be a coincidence that the former Temple Emanuel in Paterson seems ready-made to be a temple of the arts. There are lighting fixtures by Tiffany, marble skirting around the bimah, art deco brass work and gorgeous stained glass everywhere, including a stunning ceiling window."

The space offered 1,000 orchestra seats, 252 balcony seats and a 10,000-square-foot main theater with an adjacent 8,000-square-foot ballroom.

Barnert Temple

The Barnert Temple - Congregation B'nai Jeshurun

Originally an Orthodox congregation formed in 1847 by German Jewish merchants and professional men, joined by some Jews from Bialystok, Poland, eastern Europe's textile center, it eventually became the main Reform Temple in Paterson. [Click on above link for details and photos.]










Congregation B'nai Israel a.k.a. "The Big Shul"

In 1886 the Orthodox Jews of Paterson formed a small congregation known as B'nai Israel at Moshe Kassel's home at 94 River Street. In time the congregation moved to Van Houten Street, to 47 Bridge Street, and to 28 Paterson Street. In 1897 the congregation purchased property at 12-14 Godwin Street, where a large and impressive synagogue was built, known popularly as the Godwin Street Shul or di grosse shul, the Big Shul.














Ahavath Joseph a.k.a. "The Little Shul"

The Little Shul, was established by Rumanian Jews in the early 1900's at 23 Godwin Street. While never reaching the numerical strength of the Big Shul, it played an important role in the religious life of the Jewish community


On January 24, 1954 the Big Shul and the Little Shul combined owing to a declining Jewish Orthodox population. In the 1960's, because of race riots and the fraying of the social infrastructure, the Jewish population no longer felt welcome in the old neighborhood, and most of the members started moving to the Eastside. The merged congregation eventually moved to a beautifully redecorated private residence at 561 Park Avenue. The Orthodox synagogue is currently a yeshiva that draws students from all over New Jersey. They take room and board in two large mansions that border Eastside Park.





Fair Street Shul (Congregation Anshei Lubavitch)

To keep a Lubavitch presence in Paterson, Congregation Anshai Lubavitch was founded at approximately the beginning of the 20th century on Godwin Avenue.

To keep a Lubavitch presence in Paterson, Congregation Anshai Lubavitch was founded at approximately the beginning of the 20th century on Godwin Avenue.

Originally the Orthodox Shul on Fair Street, formed in 1909, was known as the United Brotherhood Anshai Lodz, popularly called the "Polish Shul" (photo).

In the 1960's, riots and vandalism forced a move to a new home at East 26th Street and Broadway. At this address, the Fair Street congregation was joined by a small Shul, Linat Hatzedek, located on Carroll Street. Together they took the name of United Brotherhood Linat Hatzedek, dropping Anshai Lodz. The combined congregation eventually moved to 685 Broadway, referred to as di stiebel, the study house (see below).

Little further information is known because all records and documents were lost when, in 1980, vandals destroyed its last home at llth Avenue near 26th Street.

The only presence today is in a house on 32nd Street and Broadway known as Anshai Lubavitch Congregation. Both the United Brotherhood Linat Hatzedek and the Lubavitcher congregations joined forces and relocated in Fair Lawn.





Beth Shalom (Di Steibel)

Di Stiebel was located in a large house at 685 Broadway, across the street from Barnert Hosital. The combined congregation, later known as Beth Shalom, was a very committed one. All the Paterson synagogues welcomed Jewish refugees from Europe after World War II, but di stiebel drew the most new congregants.



Water Street Shul (Congregation Beth Hamedresh Hagadol)

Another Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Beth Hamedresh Hagadol, known as the Water Street Shul, was located on Water Street (now called Presidential Boulevard) between Arch and Clinton Streets in the "over the river" neighborhood near the silk mills and the Passaic River, nestled between the silk mills and School No. 4. Its members were silk mill workers who came from the Russian Pale of Settlement following the 1905 pogroms there.


Congregation Ohav Sholom

Congregation Ohav Sholom, an Orthodox synagogue, was founded around 1915. Its early members worshiped on the third floor of a Main Street building in the Dublin section of Paterson and later moved to 453 Main Street in the same neighborhood. When Congregation Ohav Sholom was dissolved in 1951, its assets were distributed to Yavneh, the YM-YWHA, Daughters of Miriam, the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, the State of Israel and others. The property is now owned by St. Boniface Church.



The first known Mikvah (ritual bath) in Paterson existed at 38 Paterson Street under private auspices. It served the needs of the Orthodox community and introduced showers to those who lacked facilities at home.

After the owners sold the Mikvah, another one was established on Fair Street, under the supervision of the Orthodox Rabbinate.

No Mikvah exists in Paterson today.


No Eruv in Paterson exists


 Here's a link to old archives from the Paterson Jewish Post:


















 David WilsonDavid Wilson Info