The Weequahic section was one of the last
Jewish neighborhoods to develop. It gradually emerged from an agricultural
area to a neighborhood populated by upwardly mobile Jews who had
escaped from the High Street and Prince Street areas1,
where they or their parents traded former run-down ancient wood-framed
tenements for finely and more recently constructed one to four-family
homes with many refinements that had been lacking in their former
neighborhoods, such as central heating and private plumbing.
1926: Weequahic's Growing Jewish Presence
Ray Miller, currently living in retirement in Canyon Lake, California,
was as eye-witness to Weequahic's evolving environment from largely
gentile to essentially an all-Jewish community, beginning in 1926
and through his graduation from Weequahic High in 1940.
Here are some of his recollections of the changing Weequahic neighborhood:
"In 1926, we moved into a one-family house on Vasser Avenue
between Elizabeth Avenue and Bergen Street. This was one of the
most desirable neighborhoods in Newark.
"From Chancellor to Lyons, the houses in comparable locations
were all one-family and generally well-kept. Above Bergen Street
to Parkview Terrace, the houses were largely two-family, and beyond
that, single-family houses again appeared.
"On our block there was a one-family largely brick home at
Bergen Street. Across Vasser Avenue lived the Joseph Reinfeld (Seagram)
family in a similar large brick house.
"Next to the Reinfeld family lived the city's Fire Chief,
who had an official Fire Department sedan pick him up each morning,
and return him to Vasser Avenue each evening.
There was also a plumber who had what may have been the city's
first underground watering system. He had the control valves in
his basement to handle the system.
There was also a racketeer, a dentist, and several independent
businessmen, and an assorted group of about a dozen happy kids."
1940s, a Bustling Jewish Community
By the late 1940s, the Weequahic section had in excess of 30,000
Jewish residents, while the adjacent Clinton Hill section had less
that half that number, 13,4000, and southward from Weequahic--just
over the Weequahic-Newark city line, another 4,000 Jewish residents
The German Jews of Newark, who had been living mainly in the nearby
Clinton Hill section, did not appear to be attracted to Weequahic.
More often than not, when vacating Clinton Hill, they moved to
the western suburbs, taking their synagogues with them, among them
the historic Newark congregations B'nai Abraham, B'nai Jeshurun,
and Oheb Shalom.
While the Weequahic neighborhood retained its large Jewish population
through the 1940s and 1950s, there was a slow exodus into the Essex
However, those who vacated the Weequahic area and moved into such
towns as South Orange and Livingston still returned to shop their
favorite clothing shops on Bergen, which were one-by-one following
them into the suburbs.
The turning point for Weequahic as a Jewish neighborhood and the
Bergen Street Jewish shopping district, as a former merchant recalled
for me, was the 1960s riots.
"Then," she recalled, "everyone flew."