For Michael Newman, a history teacher at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in Hartsdale, NY, the name Anton Kaufman looms large in family lore.
Kaufman — who was born in Hungary and became a reporter at a Berlin newspaper called the Morgen-Zeitung — would eventually become the owner and publisher of the Newark Jewish Chronicle from 1921 until his death in 1943.
He was also Newman’s great-grandfather’s brother-in-law.
“I have been studying him and his family for the past three years,” said Newman.
That research has led him to the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (formerly JHS of MetroWest), a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, where he could pore over the Chronicle’s yellowed pages on a microfilm monitor at its Whippany office.
That’s where NJJN found him recently, eager to share insights into a figure JHS executive director Linda Forgosh called “a pivotal figure in the history of Newark’s Jewish life.”
“If you wanted to know about Jews in Newark or the New Jersey suburbs, you read the Jewish Chronicle,” said Forgosh, who assisted Newman in his research. “It charted mutual benefit societies and every agency as it opened. It was extremely influential. It was the window to the world, and it went beyond Newark. It had a readership of 70,000 Jews….”
Kaufman, Forgosh said, “had a large worldview.”
From his detailed study of Kaufman’s life, along with stories passed down from his father and grandfather, Newman has reached an assessment that dovetails with Forgosh’s.
“What comes across from my research was that Anton was a firm supporter of Jewish culture,” Newman said. “He experienced anti-Semitism firsthand as a student at the University of Berlin, where he fought a duel with a bigot and wound up with a scar above his mouth. He wore that as a mark of remembrance. A person confronted him about his Judaism and he didn’t want to accept it, so he fought back.”
Newman can date Kaufman’s struggle against American anti-Semitism to 1912, when his great-great uncle wrote President William Howard Taft to complain about discrimination, living conditions, and anti-immigrant sentiments directed at residents of the Lower East Side. His remarks were entered into the Congressional Record.
“Being an advocate in that way was a special passion of his,” said Newman.
In addition to Jewish causes, Kaufman was active in the New Jersey Press Association, the New Jersey Anti-Tuberculosis League, and the Newark Chamber of Commerce. He gradually became blind in the 1930s, toward the end of his career.
Kaufman died on New Year’s Day, 1943, at the age of 60 in what the New York Times described at the time as “a fall from his eighth-floor room in the Robert Treat Hotel” in Newark. The financially struggling Jewish Chronicle closed soon after.
Kaufman was honored by hundreds of mourners at Temple B’nai Jeshurun — then located in Newark — and buried in its cemetery in Hillside.
The synagogue’s rabbi, Solomon Foster, who also was the Chronicle’s chief editorial writer, delivered the eulogy.
“The partnership of realism and idealism guided him in launching the Newark Jewish Chronicle,” said the rabbi. “As a journalist, Anton Kaufman had great courage, which prompted the corrupt to fear him, the hypocrite to shun him, and the vicious to deride him.”
In 1947, the Newark Jewish federation, then known as the Jewish Community Council, brought out its own paper, The Jewish News, which evolved into today’s New Jersey Jewish News, which, said Forgosh, “continued Kaufman’s vision.”
Still in pursuit of more knowledge about Kaufman’s life, Newman is making plans to visit his great-great-uncle’s homes in Europe.
His also infuses his students at Solomon Schechter High School with interest in pursuing their own family histories.
“Hopefully, people who are interested in their backgrounds will use the records to learn what Jewish life was like,” he said.