Third Ward Businessman's Life is Told in Published Memoir to Grandchildren

by Nat Bodian


In a meticulously recalled and published memoir, appropriately titled "Listen My Children", a one-time Third Ward resident recalls his life and trials, from his teenage years as a newcomer to America, to his adulthood, in Newark's old Third Ward.

Jacob Scarr settled in Newark's Third Ward in 1913 at the age of 15, after arriving here from the tiny Jewish village (schtetl) of Chudnuv in the Ukraine with no knowledge of the English language.

He struggled through various menial jobs and business start-ups while establishing himself in his new country ultimately evolving into an astute businessman and proprietor of a prosperous dairy-grocery retail business at 102 Prince Street near Court Street in the 1920s and 1930s. Along the way, he became a married family man and the father of four children.

Jacob Scarr's memoir, published in 1972 by Dorrance & Company, Philadelphia, is a recounting of his life, his learning the language, and the various trials of his various jobs and business dealings in various Third Ward locales.

Among that Third Ward locales in his memoir, he includes dealings on West Street, Springfield Avenue, Broome Street, Prince Street, Court Street, West Kinney Street, Clayton Street, Mercer Street, Morton Street, Charlton Street, High Street, South Orange Avenue, Belmont Avenue, Quitman Street, Monmouth Street, Spruce Street, Rankin Street, Somerset Street, and Montgomery Street.

Scarr's memory is crystal clear on the various business enterprises on Prince Street in the vicinity of the Court Street Area where he lived and operated his dairy-grocery business.

Here is one place in his memoir where he is telling newly-arrived relatives from Europe about Prince Street before a visit there:

"Prince Street is a concentration of stores the like of which is hard to find anywhere in America. We have groceries, butcher shops, live chicken markets, delicatessens, yard goods stores, furniture stores, and many others. People come from miles away to shop on Prince Street."

And here is Scarr describing a walk with his newly arrived aunt and uncle from the Ukraine in 1921 as he took them for their first walk on Prince Street:

"We stopped at Leo Tobin's grocery store and I introduced my relatives. A few stores away was a chicken market and in the block between Morton and Court Streets there was a dairy run by the Berlins (It would later be his business). On the corner of Prince and Court was Morris Reinfield, a kosher butcher. On the opposite corner was Kaiser's Bakery, and a few stores farther down was Lehroff's Bakery, followed by Taylor's kosher butcher store.

"On Prince and Springfield was a candy and stationery store offering all kinds of books, Jewish, German, Russian, English, and many religious articles."

I found a special interest in his memoir his marriage to wife Pearl, first at the Essex County Court House and later, at the insistence of his new father in-law, in a religious ceremony in the study of Rabbi Hyman Brodsky of the West Kinney Street Russian Synagogue (Congregation Anshe Russia).

In setting up the wedding arrangements, Scarr was advised by the rabbi: "Come on Sunday morning (to the rabbi's home) and bring a minyon with you (ten Jewish men over the age of 13). If you give my wife ten dollars, she will arrange a sweet table with cakes and herring and chopped liver and chopped eggs and whatever else will be needed.

"You bring a bottle of wine and a bottle of whiskey, so that after the ceremony the guests will have a drink and wish you luck."

Scarr writes later: "After the ceremony I gave the rabbi ten dollars and asked him if it was enough. The rabbi answered: 'There is no price for my services. Some give more, and some don't give me anything. But I am happy to give my services and to take part in any Jewish simcha (party)."

Jacob Scarr's memoir is bursting with Jewish life as it existed in the old Third Ward from the year of his arrival in 1913 until his manhood as an astute and prosperous self-made business and family man.

How Scarr's Recollections Affected Me

The recollections of Jacob Scarr made a special impression on me, even though our paths had never crossed. He had lived for years at 137 West Street. So, too, did I, in my formative years go into a private home on that same West Street block to take my lessons from the reverend Morris Fecher in preparation for my bar mitzvah (confirmation) at the age of 13.

And, as Scarr and his wife were married by Rabbi Brodsky, I had my bar mitzvah in the smaller chapel of Rabbi Brodsky's synagogue in 1934.

And, like Scarr's twenty dollar "wedding package", I went through a bar mitzvah in Rabbi Brodsky's synagogue (replete with bar mitzvah speech in Yiddish and the tossing of small brown candy-filled bags at the end of the ceremony (as was then tradition) and a sweet table set up afterward in the synagogue with herring, wine and cake provided by my parents. In retrospect, it is my guess that my bar mitzvah cost was not far distant from the cost to Scarr for his wedding.

For me, having spent my formative years in the same Third Ward and on most of those very same streets, the Scarr memoir was like a trip through memory lane.

* * *

Scarr was self taught. However his daughter, Bernice (Bernice Kessler of Union) told me later that he took a night typing course in school, and that he typed the entire book manuscript by himself.

His daughter, then a journalist at the Elizabeth Daily Journal, assisted him with the editing of his manuscript. But she insisted that all the words in his memoir were his own.

* * *

Some of Scarr's jobs/business ventures: Furniture auction handyman, furniture deliverer, piano deliverer, garage auto repairman, horse and wagon driver, pork packer, route driver-salesman, butter and egg routeman, and grocer.

* * *

Jacob Scarr died on June 23, 1981 in Hollywood, Florida, at the age of 84. He is buried in the Chudnover KUV Cemetery on South Orange Avenue, Newark, with his wife, his mother, and his father.

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