Connecting Serbia and Newark
I read with great interest Ilyse Shainbrown’s “Jewish remains of the day” (July 27). Remembering the once vast Jewish population of Newark and the destruction of the riots 50 years ago struck a chord with me.
Founded 30 years ago, Greater Newark Conservancy was formed to begin repairing Newark’s damaged neighborhoods and parks by working with community groups and block associations to create community gardens and street-side, planted flower barrels. Whereas these efforts beautified portions of the city, they also served as a means to bring neighbors together, empowering them to take back their residential blocks and becoming part of a larger movement to restore Newark’s urban environment and quality of life. Over the years the Conservancy has reached hundreds of neighborhoods and thousands of schoolchildren with interactive lessons, programs, and teaching gardens at their schools.
More recently Greater Newark Conservancy has been striving to renovate a Jewish icon of the community in the Prince Street neighborhood. The Prince Street Synagogue is Newark’s oldest standing synagogue building and is the last remnant of what was once an intensely vibrant Jewish community. The former synagogue was built in 1884 by the Oheb Shalom Congregation, barely escaped the wrecker’s ball in the 1990s, and is now listed in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.
After acquiring the former synagogue, the Conservancy has commenced a phased renovation project, beginning to transform the former synagogue into a community environmental center, surrounded by lush teaching gardens that comprise part of the Judith L. Shipley Urban Environmental Center in Newark’s Central Ward. To date, the exterior of the building has been restored with a new addition added on the back to house modern utilities and a future elevator. Classrooms, a demonstration/teaching kitchen, and meeting rooms have been completed on the ground level of the building.
Surviving, majestic, stained glass windows have been restored in the upper level’s former sanctuary with its impressive vaulted ceiling and towering columns supporting an upper tier balcony. This space awaits restoration to accommodate a combination urban environmental education center, an exhibit gallery, and a multipurpose gathering place for conferences and special events. When completed the facility will feature a permanent exhibit on the Jewish heritage of the former synagogue and of the surrounding Prince Street neighborhood.
Similar to the Serbian city of Subotica and its historic synagogue being transformed into a community cultural center, Newark will have its own community center, created by the Conservancy in a former center of Jewish culture, bringing multiple ethnic groups together to recognize and celebrate the heritage and regrowth of their great city.
Board member, Greater Newark Conservancy