The Hebrew Orphanage & Sheltering Home in the Late 1940s

by Nat Bodian


The Hebrew Orphanage and Sheltering Home was uncommon as orphanages go. It was located on a quiet residential street in North Newark and provided shelter where a home did not exist for about 25, mostly pre-teen, Jewish boys and girls.

It had been established in 1913 by a group of Orthodox Jewish women to provide a caring home-like environment for orphaned Jewish children.

The Orphanage, when I knew it in the late 1940s, was at 141 Lincoln Avenue in a wood frame building with a large brick dorm extension extending from one side of the building. Everything was on one floor.

The staff of five consisted of a combination house mother/manager, Betty Siegal: a resident nurse, a resident Hebrew teacher, and two daytime employees, a 23-year old bookkeeper/secretary who ran the office, and a matronly middle-aged Jewish woman who prepared three kosher meals each day for the children and the live-in staff member.

All of the children, with the exception of the two boys, went to a nearby elementary school. The two boys of high school age went to Barringer High1.

There was a large outdoor yard with playground equipment for recreation, but after school hours were usually reserved for doing homework and Hebrew lessons with the Israeli Hebrew instructor, Joe Beyer.

All of the children's food and clothing needs were amply provided for, and on Saturdays, the children went to a neighborhood movie.

Every August, all of the children were sent to the N. J. YM-YWHA boys and girls camps in Milford, Pennsylvania for the entire month. The staff took their vacations during that month with the exception of the bookkeeper/secretary who remained on duty to answer the phone, handle the mail, and generally keep an eye on the building.

Meals, prepared in adherence with Jewish dietary laws, were served at normal mealtimes each day on two long tables set end to end, spreading into what had been the living room and dining room when the building was originally built as a private home.

The two boys of high school age packed their own lunches before leaving for school in the morning, helping themselves from the food pantry and the commercial-size huge refrigerator that lined one wall in the kitchen. The elementary school students came home for lunch.

Orphanage Financial Support

Financial support for the Orphanage was the responsibility of the Board of Directors, a group of a dozen or more well-to-do Newark Jews.

They met periodically in a downtown Newark hotel room, the Essex House, to discuss the needs of the orphanage and fundraising activities needed to support the institution. The bookkeeper/secretary took the minutes at the board meetings.

The biggest fund-raising effort each years was an annual Dinner-Dance with accompanying ad journal. The Dinned-Dance ticket receipts, plus the advertising income from the ad journal provided a large part of the Orphanage yearly budget. Small contributions also trickled in during the year.

The Dinner-Dance usually held at the Essex House featured a big-name or nearly big-name entertainer. In 1947, the Dinner-Dance headliner was an up-and-coming 'borsht circuit' comedian fresh from a Broadway stage appearance, one Red Buttons2, who gave an outstanding comedic performance. I had handled the Orphanage publicity for the event, and after his performance, handed him a check for $750 as payment."

Name of the Board members are difficult to recall, but I recall that the Board Chairman was Sam Rice, CEO of the Uco Food Corporation at 850 Frelinghuysen Avenue and that also on the Board were the Marsh's from the S. Marsh & Sons jewelry business at 188 Market Street in the Springam Building. Also the Berg real estate people.

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Note: The preceding entry was assembled from 55 year old memories based on a number of visits to the Hebrew Orphanage and Sheltering Home and from volunteer publicity I did for the home in 1947. Perhaps someone who lived at the Hebrew Orphanage in that era can provide more accurate or better-detailed information3.

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