A son of Newark seeks to recover its past

A son of Newark seeks to recover its past

Donald Karp in his office, where the walls are covered with photos of Newark and city memorabilia.
Donald Karp in his office, where the walls are covered with photos of Newark and city memorabilia.

Step inside the top-floor office of attorney Donald Karp and you’ll see a wide panoramic view of his beloved city of Newark.

But Karp need not gaze out the window to view Newark. His two-room suite is chockablock with many types of memorabilia, reflecting a lifelong fascination with his native city, its history, and its strong connections to the Jewish community.

His office is jam-packed — with photos covering the walls depicting him with a host of politicians (including Hillary Clinton and the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo). There are souvenirs from the minor league Newark Bears baseball team, yellowed front pages from The Newark Star-Ledger, and an assortment of collectibles that range from a brass doorknob to a windup Victrola record player to a drove of piggy banks.

It was in Newark — at Beth Israel Hospital — that Karp was born 77 years ago. 

At 13 he became bar mitzva at Temple B’nai Abraham — now in Livingston, then still in the city — after attending Hebrew school with Jonathan Prinz, the son of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, the German-Jewish refugee and TBA rabbi who became a leading civil rights activist. “We had the bar mitzva party at the Essex House” in Newark, a now defunct hotel, said Karp. 

Among the guests was former Mayor Meyer Ellenstein, whom Karp had befriended. Ellenstein, who served from 1933 to 1941, was Newark’s first and only Jewish mayor. “He was a neighbor of mine, and he got me interested in politics,” Karp said.

That interest led to Karp’s becoming a congressional page for Peter Rodino, the Newark congressman who later chaired the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon. 

Karp drew his visitors’ attention to a large black-and-white photograph on the wall of the House of Representatives taken while President Dwight Eisenhower delivered his 1953 State of the Union speech. Karp pointed with pride to a place on an aisle where, he said, he was seated — only a few spots away from a 30-year-old representative from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.

After a two-year stint as a page, Karp considered running for Congress. “Then I got into the banking business,” eventually becoming an executive of the Broad National Bank in 1964.

But he remained active in the Democratic Party because, he said, “the Jews were very much involved in politics.” 

Karp and his wife Marjery moved from Newark to East Orange to Maplewood, then to their current home in Short Hills. But he remained in close touch with his hometown, “especially after the 1967 riots, when we realized the city had to be rebuilt.”

The six days of rioting — sparked by rumors of the death in police custody of an African-American taxi driver — resulted in 23 dead, hundreds of injured, and widespread damages.

Karp is also interested in his extended family’s story in the city. 

In late December, he sent a letter to the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey, a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. “It contained a crisply laminated half of an article from the Jewish Chronicle,” a forerunner of New Jersey Jewish News, said JHS director Linda Forgosh. 

The clipping was part of an article about Bernard Miller, a cousin of Karp’s who died when Karp was a small boy.

“I am doing genealogy and trying to get my family in shape,” Karp told Forgosh and another visitor to his office on Jan. 2. “I knew a few things about Bernie Miller — we used to call him ‘Barney’; I know when I was born he gave me a bank book with $10 in it. It was a nice gesture. He was the guy who brought my grandmother to the United States from Poland. He sponsored her. I just remember him as an old guy, but his life intersects with mine.”

Karp recalled that Miller’s company, Economy Auto, was on the property of the Broad National Bank across the street from Newark City Hall. Miller was a member of the board of Newark Beth Israel when it was struggling to remain open in the 1930s during the Depression. 

“Miller sat on all of the boards of Jewish organizations that you could imagine,” said Forgosh.

But a technological problem impeded their research, Forgosh said. “The article he sent had been cut in half,” she explained. Although the JHS stores back copies of the Chronicle on microfilm, “We have a very old microfilm reader, and I can’t give you the full article because it can’t be repaired anymore,” she said she told him. “It is just too old, and I can’t print anything out.”

But Karp offered a solution. “I asked her what a new one cost and she said, ‘$3,000,’ so I sent her a check,” he said.

A brand-new state-of-the-art microfilm reader is scheduled to be delivered to the JHS office on the Aidekman campus in Whippany this week.

Its installation will help two people who share a love for Newark’s rich Jewish past and a hope for its future.

“I like Newark,” said Karp. “I think it is a great city. It is not going anywhere and it was a great place to grow up.” 

It is a sentiment that Forgosh appreciates. “Don Karp loves Newark and shows his love as one of the city’s greatest preservationists, she said “He is well respected in and outside the Jewish community for his many contributions to its civic and historic life.’

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