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 Collection
Identifier: MC 739

Congregation Poile Zedek Records

Dates

  • 1917-1997

Scope and Content Note

The records of Congregation Poile Zedek date from 1917 to 1969 and 1985 to1997. Material from 1901 to 1917 is missing and there are no records present from 1970 to 1984, nor from after 1997. Except for these missing periods, the documentation is fairly well distributed across the span of years.

Included in the records of the Congregation are copies of its CONSITUTION, MINUTES, various FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS and a SCRAPBOOK. Also included in the records are examples of various PRINTED AND MIMEOGRAPHED MATERIAL such as certificates, membership applications, play scripts and a graduation program.

The MINUTES, 1928-1967 and 1985-1997, of the Congregation are the most complete record series in the collection. Written in Yiddish until 1947, they record decisions necessary to maintain the smooth functioning of the synagogue. Among these activities are the hiring of a rabbi, the physical upkeep of the synagogue building and cemetery and the creation of a Hebrew School.

Although the series FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS, bulk 1917-1967, comprises over one third of the records of Congregation Poile Zedek, there are significant gaps in the materials. For example, the two subseries Membership Ledgers and Statements of Members' Accounts cover only 1917-1927, 1941-1945 and 1967. In addition, the Cash Books subseries covers only 1923-1930 and 1936-1940. The subseries Day Books, 1927-1930 and circa 1952-circa 1954, and Bills Paid, 1955-1962, do not adequately fill in the gaps.

The Board of Trustees subgroup encompasses one of the more incomplete series in its MINUTES, 1959-1967 and 1989-1997 with gaps. The Board was primarily concerned with long-range planning and preparing recommendations for the Congregation.

The series arising from the activities of the Building Committee are complete for the important years 1922-1924 when the synagogue was being planned and under construction. The MINUTES, 1923-1924, of the Building Committee are recorded in Yiddish. Its other records include a DONATION LEDGER, 1922-1924, and CASH BOOK, 1922-1924.

The MINUTES, 1939-1969, of the Sisterhood have gaps during the years 1945-1949 and 1957-1958. MEMBERSHIP LEDGERS are available from 1924-1952 for this subgroup. The two main activities of the Sisterhood were planning fundraisers, in order to help pay off mortgages on the synagogue, and planning social activities for the Congregation's members. Both the MINUTES and an ACCOUNT BOOK, 1964-1967, document these activities.

The records of the Hebrew School are the most incomplete. The only series in this subgroup is PRINTED AND MIMEOGRAPHED MATERIAL, circa 1962 and undated. Included in it are fundraising documents, a graduation certificate and mimeographed educational worksheets.

Extent

3.45 Cubic Feet (8 manuscript boxes, 4 phase boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials

English, Yiddish and Hebrew

Conditions Governing Access

No Restrictions.

Abstract

Founded in 1901 as an Orthodox Jewish congregation in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Congregation Poile Zedek became a Conservative congregation for a short period, beginning in 1968, before reverting to Orthodox Judaism. Its Ladies Auxiliary (later Sisterhood) began in 1920, and its large synagogue building on Neilson Street was completed in 1924. The organization's records date from 1917 to 1969 and from 1985 to 1997. They consist of a constitution, minutes, a scrapbook, financial documents and printed and mimeographed material. Collectively, these records, some of which are in Yiddish, provide insight into the activities of the Congregation and its Board of Trustees, Building Committee, Sisterhood and Hebrew School.

Historical Chronology

1901 November 18
Congregation Poile Zedek is founded as an Orthodox Jewish congregation in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Elfant at 25 Hiram Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
1901 December
Congregation receives its charter.
1905
Site of synagogue on Neilson Street in New Brunswick is purchased.
1908
Reverend Eli Dobin is hired to serve as the reader (cantor), shofar blower, circumcisor (mohel) and ritual slaughterer (shochet).
1915
The Torah is dedicated.
1918
Congregation Poile Zedek shares the services of Rabbi Samuel Baskin with Ahavas Achim, a nearby synagogue.
circa 1918-circa 1931
The congregation shares the services of Rabbi Anton Klein with Congregation Ohav Emeth.
1920
The Ladies Auxiliary (commonly known as the Sisterhood) is established with Bella Zack as the first president.
1923 August 19
Congregation holds cornerstone ceremony for the new building to be built on Neilson Street.
1924
Synagogue building on Neilson Street is completed.
1931
Rabbi Stern briefly serves as rabbi for Poile Zedek.
1936
Reverend Dobin disappears after last being seen on the steps of the synagogue. His body is never found.
1938
Rabbi Philip Raymon, official rabbi of Ahavas Achim, provides services to Poile Zedek and Ohav Emeth.
1940
Congregation pays off the second mortgage on the synagogue building.
1947
The Ladies Auxiliary establishes a Sunday School for the children.
1953 February 9
It is announced at a Ladies Auxiliary meeting that the Congregation has joined the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
1955 March 1
Congregation votes to engage the services of its own rabbi rather than to continue to share the services of Rabbi P. Raymon.
1955 July
Only dated copy of the Congregation's constitution.
1955 August
Gerald Green begins serving as the Congregation's rabbi.
1959 June 30
Board meeting minutes are combined in the Congregation's minutes.
1961 November 17
Commemorative service is held in honor of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Poile Zedek.
1961
Hebrew School expands to the high school level.
1962 June 15
First graduation exercises of the Hebrew School held.
1965 May 4
Hebrew School merges with that of Congregation Ahavas Achim, primarily for financial reasons.
1966 June 21
Board of Education decides to continue the Hebrew School merger for another year.
1966 October 10
The Ladies Auxiliary reports that the men have taken over the preparation of the advertising journal.
1967
Rabbi Green leaves.
1967 December 11
Decision is made to contact the United Synagogue of America (the national organization for Conservative synagogues) to request a representative to come and speak about Conservative Judaism.
1968 February
Congregation votes to change from its existing mixture of half Conservative and half Orthodox (a traditional prayer service, with mixed seating) to a fully Conservative congregation.
1985
Congregation Poile Zedek continues in existence with a reduced membership and a part-time rabbi. A possible merger with Congregation Ahavas Achim is explored.
1985-1988?
In response to a proposal from the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), Congregation Poile Zedek reviews the possibility of the synagogue's front steps being taken to widen Neilson Street and of altering the building's façade as a result.
1987 November
The decision is made to apply to have the synagogue placed on the National Register of Historic Places, to ensure review if governmental action were proposed to alter the synagogue. Seeking this recognition had been deferred in the belief that any renovations, contemplated in light of the DEVCO proposal, might have been more difficult if the synagogue were already listed.
1989 May
Congregation Poile Zedek votes to continue mixed seating (men and women together).
1990 April
Board meeting minutes note that the Congregation possesses 11 Torah scrolls.
1992 November
The Congregation President reports that he attended a meeting at which New Brunswick city officials indicated the synagogue building would not be condemned and, instead, new construction in the Hiram Market area would take place around it.
1993 October
Congregation Poile Zedek votes to have separate seating for men and women.
1995 October
The synagogue building, with its façade and front steps intact, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1996 March
Congregation votes to allow the rabbi to attend its meetings.
1997
Work begins to establish an Eruv in New Brunswick that will connect with the one in neighboring Highland Park, where many of Congregation Poile Zedek's members live.
2008 January
Vandals topple scores of gravestones in the Congregation's cemetery on Joyce Kilmer Avenue in New Brunswick.
2015 October
A fire guts the synagogue, leaving only the building's walls standing. One Torah is rescued by Abraham J. Mykoff, the Congregation's longtime rabbi.

Arrangement Note

The bulk of the records of Congregation Poile Zedek was donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 1986. When received, these records filled five records center cartons. One of the cartons consisted almost entirely of paid bills from 1955 to 1962. Some of the bills had been filed by the vendor's name in portable file boxes which had alphabetical dividers. Many of these bills had either never been filed or had been pulled out and never replaced. Because of this disorder, folders with alphabetical headings were created and all the bills were filed alphabetically by vendor name.

Approximately one cubic foot of material was removed from the Congregation's records during processing. The discarded items were composed entirely of large numbers of duplicate copies of Bulletins, pamphlets, graduation brochures and mimeographed material. Two issues of The Record of the Northern New Jersey Region of the United Synagogues of America were transferred to the Synagogue Archives Project files.

A later accession of Congregation Poile Zedek records contained material dated from 1985 to 1997. These records remain together, housed in box 12, but are described and listed in the finding aid as part of the individual record series to which they belong.

General

The bulk of the Congregation Poile Zedek records was arranged and described in 1987 by Ann-Marie Lemal. The finding aid was updated by Albert C. King to include additional materials.

Appendix: List of Principal Officers

  1. Congregation Presidents:
  2. Since the MINUTES of the Congregation before 1947 are in Yiddish, for Presidents prior to 1948, see Ruth M. Patt in The Jewish Scene in New Jersey's Raritan Valley, 1698-1948 (Jewish Historical Society of Raritan Valley, 1978). Patt states on page 44 that past presidents have included "Jacob Grossman, Rachins Barnett, Joseph Gabowitz, Benjamin Elfant, Samuel Meiner, Harry Levin, Louis Schatzman, Joseph Schwartz, Jack Morrison, and Hyman Katz."
  3. Jack Morrison, 1947-1948
  4. Herman Hoddeson, 1949, 1963-1964
  5. Hyman Katz, 1950
  6. Louis Schatzman, 1951-1952
  7. Morris Elfant, 1953-1959
  8. S. Shnier, 1960-1962
  9. Louis Shick, 1965?-1967 (at least) and 1985-1995
  10. Abe Henn (acting), 1995-1996
  11. Mark Elfant, 1996-1997
  12. Danny Ravitz, 1997 (at least) and 2009-2012 (at least)
  1. Congregation Vice Presidents:
  2. Max Zenkel, 1949, 1963-1964
  3. William Schwartz, 1950
  4. Jack Kaplan, 1951
  5. Sid Baker, 1952?, 1965-1966
  6. S. Cheiten, 1953?-1959
  7. Jack Kroll, 1960-1962, 1967
  8. Note: By 1986, the Congregation had in place a system of first, second and third vice presidents.
  1. Sisterhood/Ladies Auxiliary Presidents:
  2. Mrs. Bella Zack, 1920 (at least) and 1939-1944
  3. Mrs. Elfant, 1950-1951, 1963-1964
  4. Mrs. Pinkus, 1952-1953
  5. Mrs. Butler, 1954-1956
  6. Mrs. Howard, 1959
  7. Mrs. Lee Zaslower, 1960
  8. Mrs. L. Gittleman, 1961
  9. Mrs. M. Stickel, 1962
  10. Mrs. S. Berkowitz, 1965-1966
  11. Mrs. Bert Young, 1967-1968
  12. Freda Gordon, 1997 (at least)
Title
Inventory to the Congregation Poile Zedek Records MC 739
Status
Edited Full Draft
Author
Ann-Marie Lemal
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Sponsor
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.