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Keeper of Newark’s flame, Nat Bodian dies at age 80
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Keeper of Newark’s flame, Nat Bodian dies at age 80

Historian Nat Bodian last December at the Union Y, where he spoke to the Batim-Union chapter of Jewish Women International. Photo by Elaine Durbach
Historian Nat Bodian last December at the Union Y, where he spoke to the Batim-Union chapter of Jewish Women International. Photo by Elaine Durbach

Nat Bodian of Cranford, a journalist and historian who specialized in chronicling the history of Newark’s Jewish community, died May 1 at the age of 80.

“Nat was indispensible,” said Linda Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest, who began working with Bodian when she arrived at the JHS 10 years ago.

“If you wanted to know about Newark’s Jewish history, he was the one you called. He loved the city,” said Forgosh. “He really was the modern-day storyteller of Newark Jewish life.”

Born in Newark, Bodian went to work as a teenager at the Newark Star-Ledger. After joining the Army Air Corps during World War II, he became the South Atlantic correspondent for Yank magazine, a publication for American GIs.

“Even during the war he wrote home and told stories about fellow Newarkers, particularly about Newark’s Jewish boxers,” said Forgosh.

After the war, Bodian graduated from the New School for Social Research and began a 30-year career as a marketing manager for professional and scholarly books at John Wiley and Sons.

After retiring from the publishing house in 2000, Bodian pursued his interest in history, with a sub-specialty in Newark’s Jewish community. He lectured often at synagogues, senior citizens’ centers, and other Jewish institutions.

At the age of 79 he purchased his first computer and, working out of his home in Cranford, used it to contribute prolifically to the website www.oldnewark.com.

“I knew if there was something I needed to research, I could always go to ‘Old Newark’ and look up Nat’s work,” said Forgosh. “His recollections about Newark’s most successful Yiddish theater, Elving’s, made it possible for me to produce our exhibition, ‘One More Night at Elving’s Yiddish Theater,’ in November 2006.”

Bodian was a board member of the YM-YWHA of Union County in Union, and its forerunner in Hillside, as well as the old Newark Y. He also served as an officer of B’nai B’rith and the Anti-Defamation League.

He was buried May 4 at Beth David Memorial Park in Kenilworth after a graveside ceremony.

Bodian was predeceased by Ruth, his wife of 56 years, in 2005. He is survived by two sons, Mark of Darien, Conn., and Les of Silver Spring, Md.; his brother, Albert of New York City; and two grandchildren, Spencer and Natalie.

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