By late spring of 2008, the curtain will
fall on a Newark Establishment that was founded more than a century
ago at 152 Prince Street in the heart of Newark's old Third Ward
-- a Hebrew book store.
The store was established in 1904 by Rabbi Moses Mendelson, and
began operations as Mendelson Hebrew Book Store.
It was the single central source in Newark and Essex County for
everything in the world of Judaica, from prayer books for a newly-formed
synagogue to textbooks for Hebrew schools, prayer shawls, menorahs,
The Hebrew book store catered to every imaginable Jewish
need. It remained in its Prince Street premises until 1952.
Move to Weequahic Section
In 1952, following the upwardly-mobile Newark Jewish population
to the Weequahic section, the Hebrew establishment relocated to
382 Chancellor Avenue, just off the corner of Leslie Street.
It was a greatly-enlarged double store with a basement
By that time, Rabbi Mendelson had withdrawn from the business,
and its ownership was taken over by his wife's brother, Rabbi Louis
Sky. Before the take-over, Rabbi Sky had been the rabbi of the
Talmud Torah Synagogue on Osborn Terrace, Newark.
Rabbi Sky's Operation
Rabbi Sky operated the business at the 382 Chancellor Avenue
location with his wife, Ida, and his son, David. His son had begun
working in the store at the age of 12.
Rabbi Sky's wife, Ida -- everyone called her "Mrs. Sky"
-- was a constant presence with her husband in the business establishment.
When she was not busy helping with the stock, or with customers,
she would sit and crochet yarmulkas in attractive designs, which
would become part of the store's offerings.
Rabbi Louis Sky put his heart and soul into the business and
it became more of an institution than just a bookstore.
Religious Meeting Place
Because of the proprietor's respected rabbinical background, his
establishment on Chancellor Avenue became the place where rabbis,
cantors, religious school principals, and Jewish lay leaders could
drop in at any time and just schmooze with the rabbi, or discuss
their concerns with him, and later, after his passing, with his
son David, who had also studied for the rabbinate.
Up until Rabbi Sky's passing in 1965, his son David worked at his
side and had become a partner in the business.
With his father's passing in 1965, the son became the full owner,
and, like his father before him, the L. Sky Hebrew Book Store occupied
his full life.
A former Sky Book Store customer confided to me, "When you
walked into the store on Chancellor Avenue, you felt like you were
in a totally Jewish environment.
"Everything around you was Jewish and holy, and the atmosphere
was warm and inviting. You could browse at your leisure, and gossip
with the owner or his wife if you felt so inclined. There was never
any sales pressure."
I recall the Sky Book Store as a place where Jews from near and
far could wander in just to browse, never knowing in advance what they
might discover-- possibly a gift, a housewarming present, a religious
item, or just a religious-themed greeting card. 1
Meeting Special Needs
Synagogues used the Sky Hebrew Book Store for their special needs,
such as repairs and replacement for a damaged Torah, engraving,
or a ceremonial cup or Judaic silver piece, or a religious jewelry
or bar mitzvah specialties, such as imprinted yarmulkahs traditional
at bar mitzvahs, and various religious holiday novelties such as
Chanukah dreydels and Chanukah gelt.2
After the 1967 Riots
Although untouched by the 1967 Newark riots, most of the Weequahic
Jewish population had already left the area by the time of the riots,
and the few that remained behind were gone soon thereafter.
By 1970, the Sky Hebrew Book Store operation had left Newark and
moved to a smaller location at 1923 Springfield Avenue in nearby
Passing of David Sky
David Sky died in 2005, and in the years following up to its
ending, his widow Fiegie (Phyllis) was somewhat overwhelmed by
the responsibility. Her late husband, David, had kept most of his
inventory locations in his head. His widow had not been prepared
what befell her after his passing.
Finally, after a valiant struggle to continue operations, she
decided she must close the business down. She told me in a visit
that she will continue- operations with an inventory reduction sale
that will probably continue into the spring of 2008.