Seniors recall their school years in Jewish Newark
Ikey, Mikey, Jakey, Sam
We’re the boys that eat no ham,
We play baseball, we play soccer,
We keep matzos in our lockers
Aye, Yiye, Yiye, Yiye Weequahic High!
That old-time school cheer from Newark’s Weequahic High School brought back a flood of memories as Jews with roots in the city gathered for the Sept. 13 meeting of the Jewish Historical Society of Central Jersey.
The program on Jewish Newark drew about 200 former city dwellers, mostly past students of Weequahic High — and some whose alma mater was South side High — to Congregation Etz Chaim Monroe Township Jewish Center.
The program featured Hilda Lutzke — an English teacher at Weequahic from 1937 to 1975 who turned 97 on Sept. 14 — speaking about colleagues and students and her “lovely” hometown of Newark, whose Jewish community was once 80,000-strong and thriving.
The nostalgic talk elicited sighs and murmurs of recognition as audience members spoke of their own memories of “terrible” high school football teams; peaceful streets; and safe, close-knit neighborhoods.
Now a Verona resident, Lutzke spoke of the excitement she felt her first day as a teacher at Weequahic, “the newest high school in the city, where the kids were smart and clever.” The school was filled “with parents concerned about their children.” Her annual pay was $1,000, higher than some others because she had a graduate degree.
“My husband was a grade school teacher with a master’s, and he made $900,” said Lutzke as audience members gasped. “In 1975 I retired making $10,000 a year.”
They were years “of joy and hard work.” Considered one of the best high schools in America, Weequahic producing renowned alumni, including author Philip Roth, a 1950 graduate whose novels often feature Newark and Weequahic.
The program was chaired by Marilyn Mix, herself a former Newark resident and school teacher who spent two years at Weequahic High. Like most others present, she now lives in one of Monroe’s nine adult communities.
She shared stories of socializing at the Weequahic Diner, where “everyone ate.” Ever the teacher, she used a pointer and easel in sharing trivia and discussing Newark’s greatest philanthropist, department store owner Louis Bamberger.
Lutzke also told of the chilling effect Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his hunt for communists had on local educators, particularly French instructor Robert Lowenstein, who lost his job.
Mix said he fought the charges for six years and was eventually reinstated with back pay, rising to become chair of Weequahic’s foreign languages department.
“He also taught algebra,” called out a man from the audience. “I had him for algebra. And it was Dr. Lowenstein. He had a PhD.”
Lowenstein, who is still alive, had written a letter to be read to those gathered in which he corrected a common fallacy — that he is 103 years old.
“I am only 102,” he wrote while expressing the hope that the former student who contacted him still had the “spit and vinegar” he remembered.
Others had their own fond memories of Newark. Jack Cohen said that while fighting in Guadalcanal in World War II, his commanding officer told the soldiers they could request one thing from home. Cohen decided he wanted photos of Newark.
“My poor mother didn’t know where to get pictures,” said Cohen, so she contacted two city dailies for help.
“One of them, I can’t remember which, decided to run a story on the front page something like, ‘GI from Newark prefers pictures of Newark to bathing beauties of the time.’”
Charlotte Anker described Newark as “fun, family, and friends.”
“It was perfect,” she said. “I learned about philanthropy and how to be kind and thoughtful. I have such good memories.”