The Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey is ushering in the New Year by asking “What’s Old?”
An exhibit by that name will feature “treasures from the archives” of the Whippany-based society, displaying rarely seen artifacts and ephemera that reveal facets of Jewish life in Newark and its suburbs.
The displays will also show how the lives of public figures — including Queen Elizabeth, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, and Woody Guthrie — intersected with those in New Jersey’s Jewish community.
“The exhibit is about small treasures that tell large stories,” said Linda Forgosh, the society’s executive director. “It crystallizes in my mind how wonderful these collections are. They make up our history and that is great.”
One item comes from the collection of Shirley Tepper Sarasohn. She contributed an invitation addressed to her father, Jules Tepper, to have tea at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth in 1953.
Another invitation requested Edith Mendel Maas to lunch with Eleanor Roosevelt at a benefit for the Essex County Symphony.
The former first lady “visited this area many times,” said Forgosh.
More recently, Barbara Drench of Verona donated her invitation to the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1997.
Another prominent visitor to the community was Albert Einstein. “He came to Newark all the time,” Forgosh said. Many of those appearances are documented by JHS memorabilia, some donated by synagogues.
Oheb Shalom Congregation, originally in Newark and now in South Orange, gave the JHS an invitation to a dinner in honor of Einstein at the Mosque Theater in Newark (now known as Symphony Hall).
Several letters written by the physicist will also be on display.
Some of those letters were written to the late Rabbi Eli Pilchik of Temple B’nai Jeshurun. One was sent to Schachtel’s Bakery in Newark, which made special deliveries of its rye bread to Einstein’s home in Princeton.
Another special item that triggers “wonderful memories” for Forgosh is a doorknob from the High Street YM-YWHA. It was donated by Gustave Heller, a banker and philanthropist, along with bulletins from the Y that highlight its many famous guests.
In its 30 years of existence from 1924 to 1954 on the corner of High and Kinney streets, the Y hosted a range of prominent figures, including pilot Earhart; composers Jan Paderewski, Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin; dancer Martha Graham; Admiral Richard Byrd; folksinger Guthrie; and Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas.
The exhibit will also include a current edition of NJ Jewish News and a vintage copy of the Jewish Chronicle, which covered the Newark community between 1921 and 1943. Both newspapers “gave Jews a view that took them beyond their own Jewish world,” Forgosh said.
Also on display will be what she described as a “remarkable collection of matchbook covers” from Essex County restaurants, as well as a pin from Don’s Drive-In, a suburban restaurant on the South Orange-Short Hills border that was especially popular with teenagers in the 1950s and ’60s.
JHS is a beneficiary agency of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The exhibit opens in the atrium of the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany on Sept. 15 and runs until Nov. 12.