In 2003, the 82nd year of my life, in
one way or another, I have been associated with a YM-YWHA facility
for most of these years, and for more than a third of them in the
City of Newark.
The 'Y' movement in Newark, now just a memory, had an eventful
history that spanned nearly a century. It came to a lamentable end
shortly after the 1967 riots with the exodus of nearly all of the
remaining Jewish population in Newark's Weequahic Section to the
Newark's remaining YM-YWHA facility at 255 Chancellor Avenue was
closed in 19691
and sold to the Newark Board of Education and became Chancellor
My Entry Into Y Movement
I came into the Y movement as a youngster of about eight or nine
when I wandered into the magnificent new 'Y' building at 652 High
Street around 1930. It was just around the corner from the Third
Ward cold-water flat where I lived with my family on Montgomery
As the Jewish population in the Third Ward neighborhood adjacent
to High Street 'Y' shifted over the next two decades to the Clinton
Hill or Weequahic neighborhoods, or to the suburbs, the High Street
'Y' facility was closed with the sale of the building to a black
Masonic society in 1954.
Starting a 'Y' in Hillside
With no 'Y' building operating in Newark, I was then part of a
group instrumental in helping to start a small branch YMHA in a
duplex former residential building on Hillside Avenue in Hillside,
just 2,500 feet from the Newark Line.
Later, I was on the planning board for a new Newark 'Y' building,
subsequently opened at 255 Chancellor Avenue, corner of Aldine Street
in Newark--then the center of Newark's Jewish population.
Chancellor 'Y' Building
I was still a board member when the Chancellor 'Y' opened in 1959,
and remained an active member throughout its life. It had been built
at a cost of $1 million. I had voted in favor of having the Hillside
'Y' building sold to provide some of the funding for the new Chancellor
Long-Term Vision for Building
The planners had told us at 'Y' planning meetings that they would
limit expenditures to $1 million for the proposed Chancellor building
because they anticipated that, with the normal population flow,
the concentration of Jewish population currently around the proposed
Chancellor 'Y' building would shift westward, and that the Weequahic
neighborhood would not have a sufficient Jewish population in 30
years to continue to support that building location.2
Concurrently, I was told, planning was underway for a much more
substantial 'Y' facility, at an estimated cost of $4 million, to
be built on Northfield Road in West Orange -- the major direction
in which the planners anticipated that the Essex County Jewish population
would flow over the next three decades.
Their forecasts proved true sooner than they had ever imagined.
When the Chancellor 'Y' closed its doors in 1969, the building's
operations were moved to the Northfield 'Y' building, which had
broken ground in 1966 and was now an operating facility.
After the 1967 riots, Jewish population movement out of Newark's
Weequahic Section to the suburbs cut the 30-year life expectancy
of the Chancellor 'Y' by about two thirds, and marked the death
knell of the 'Y' movement in Newark that was started in December
1877 Birth of Newark 'Y' Movement
The birth of the 'Y' movement in Newark took place in 1877 in
the vestry rooms of the Temple B'nai Jeshurun, New Jersey's oldest
congregation. Franklin Marx was its chosen president.
It was patterned after the YMCA of those days.
For the first three years of its life, the 'Y' was based in Library
Hall on Market Street near Broad in a premise that later became
a Woolworth 5 and 10 cent store. By 1896, it began losing membership
to a new Newark Jewish club called the Progress Club, and shut its
doors in 1898.
Numerous attempts to revive the closed Newark 'Y' failed until
shortly after the end of World War I. On November 19, 1919, a group
of young men--mostly World War I veterans--initiated a 'Y' revival
program and succeeded in lining up 2,000 members.
Planning for First 'Y' Building
They had the support of Louis Bamberger and Felix Fuld, prosperous
Newark merchants and philanthropists, and launched a building drive
in 1922 that led to the ultimate erection and opening of the magnificent
654 High Street building in 1924.
With its growing membership and great interest in a new 'Y', the
group ran a minstrel show on February 17, 1920 in the Broad Street
In September 1920, the meeting hall at the Talmud Torah on Morton
Street proved inadequate for the YMHA, and it was moved to the vestry
rooms of the Temple Oheb Shalom at 572 High Street, courtesy of
the Temple's rabbi, Charles I. Hoffman.
The 'Y' remained in those premises until 1924 when it moved next
door to the newly-constructed 'Y' building at 652 High Street.
Fund Raising for the High Street Building
The fund raising campaign for the proposed High Street building
was kicked off on May 5, 1920 with a dance at the Newark Armory
that was attended by 6,000 persons. But the official date of the
building campaign was May 10, 1920, and on that date the 'Y' boasted
a membership of 1,500. This was considerable in a city which at
that time had a Jewish population of 24,000.
The bulk of the $500,000 anticipated for the building was raised
in a few days with a start by Louis Bamberger of $25,000 and by
1922, ground was broken for the start of the High Street site, which
ultimately cost $750,000 ($7.73 million in today's dollars).
By 1928, four years after the formal opening of the High Street
'Y', membership had soared to 4,500 and the High Street facility
was the second largest YM-YWHA in the United States.
High Street 'Y' Dedication
The dedication of the High Street 'Y' took place on Sunday, May
18, 1924. Rabbi Hoffman delivered the opening prayer. Newark Mayor
Frederick C. Breidenbach greeting the people on behalf of the City
of Newark. New Jersey Governor George S. Silzer also addressed the
Growth of the 'Y' on High Street
In the 30 years that followed the building's dedication, the High
Street 'Y' building would be the major center for Jewish social
and cultural life in Newark.
That 'Y' had everything: Dramatic clubs, literary club, theatre,
lectures, a staffed library, extensive sports facilities, game rooms,
and a place where the neighborhood's immigrant population, living
in ramshackle tenements, and their growing children could feel welcome,
despite -- for many -- struggling and unhappy lives in grinding
In the 'Y' building, they could socialize with one another and
enjoy some of the nicer things that life had to offer, and to set
their sights for a brighter future.
Untold marriages resulted from meetings at the weekly dances and
other social events at the 'Y', and numerous 'Y' alumni went on
to positions of leadership in retail merchandising, business, government,
and industry... and in such professions as accounting, law, education,
medicine, and the theatre.