Morristown Jewish Center

History

Photograph of the MJCBY sanctuary(This is the text of a speech given in November, 1979 by Judge Lawrence Willner, MJCBY President, at the 50th anniversary celebration of the dedication of our buliding. Lew Stone transcribed the text and created an annotated version that can be found in our Digital Library.)

My function here this evening, on the 50th Anniversary of our J.C.C. Building is to give a brief history of the Jewish Community prior to the year 1929 when the original building was built and then to recount the establishment of this religious house.

The Jewish Community in Morristown dates from 1898. Shortly after this time a Jewish Community began to be known in the area. Families began to settle — the early names were: Moses Farbman, Gerson Meyerowitz, Harris Domb, Isaac Mintz, William Sacharoff, Ben Sire, Isaac Katz, Meyer Friedman, Abraham Mintz, Hyman Fine, Bene Rosenblatt, Max & Harry Mintz, David & Harry Salny, Samuel Kramer, Elias Kling, Louis Goldstein, and Morris Greenberger.

In these early days, these families went back to the big cities nearby for the High Holidays. As families increased in the area, it was decided to try to have services in Morristown.

The first services for the High Holidays were held at the home of Mr. Abraham Mintz on Race Street in Morristown.

In January of 1899, the House of Israel was incorporated and the first Trustees were Benjamin Rosenblatt, Abraham Mintz and Hyman Fine. Religious services were now held at a house at 4 Race Street.

As the community grew, larger quarters were needed. Eureka Hall on Spring Street was now rented for holding services. From there, the Masonic Hall on the corner of Schuyler Place and Washington Street was rented in 1903.

In 1907, Lippmann Hall on High Street was used and in 1910, Miller Hall on South Street was rented.

By this time, the congregants began to think of obtaining a permanent home of their own. A piece of land was brought on Speedwell Avenue opposite Flagler Street. Sometime later, it was decided that this property was not suitable for their use and as a result, it was sold and on May 7, 1918, the present side of the Center was purchased. At the time, there was a large dwelling on the tract and this was remodeled for a synagogue on the first floor and classrooms on the third floor. The building was used in this manner until 1928.

On January 29, 1928- a meeting was held at the Washington Hotel - Mrs. Emil Newmark hosted the meeting. Maurice Epstein was at this time President of the Congregation.

Those in attendance were Jacob Bricker, Samuel Golding, Reuben Gurevitz, Emil Newmark, Morris Rosenberg, Harry I. Salny, Mrs. David Salny [Anne], Abraham F. Schall, Milton Schlosser, Barney Zam, and E.J. Londow of the Jewish Welfare Board.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of constructing a building for religious services a Hebrew [Religious] School and one that would provide for all the needs of the Jewish Community.

As the result of this meeting a banquet was held on February 12, 1928 at the Schary Manor in Newark to create interest and to raise a substantial sum of money so that a Center could be erected.

At the dinner $34,000 [$490,000 in 2018 dollars] was pledged and a Building Committee was appointed.

One Herman Rosensohn of Newark was selected as the Architect. When plans were completed, Bontempo & D’Annunzio of Morristown was given the building contract.

The cornerstone of this building was laid on March 1, 1929 by David Salny, a former President of the Synagogue and at that time a member of the Board of Directors.

The first general meeting of the membership was held in the new building on September 25, 1929. The Officers and Members of the Board of Directors were: Maurice Epstein, President; Harry I. Salny, Vice President; Harry Roth, Treasurer; Samuel Golding, Secretary; Jacob Bricker, Charles Felman, Dr. Abram Friedman, Alexander Fromm, Joseph Glick, Reuben Gurevitz, Max Mintz, Emil Newmark, David S. Salny, Abraham Schall, and Mitlon Schlosser.

In front of our building there is a Morris County Heritage Commission Marker which states:

Jewish Community Center
1929
First Jewish place of worship in Morristown
Incorporated 1899
Present Center, housing Synagogue, Chapel, Hebrew
School and related organizations,
Built by descendants of original Congregation

After the occupancy of the new building [which was built when there were only 75 families] the membership increased until 1947, there were then 350 families as members. In that year, the original mortgage was paid and satisfied.

By this time, our membership was diverse in its beliefs and by 1954 we had three kinds of services in our building- Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. The Orthodox met in the chapel which was rebuilt in 1957 and was dedicated as a memorial to my father, David E. Willner. The Reform congregation was meeting in the gym [now the Ballroom] for High Holiday services and in the Sisterhood Room for Friday Night services.

During the administration [Presidency] of Michael Rubenstein, the Board of Directors proposed an addition to the Building and, at a General Meeting of the Membership, the construction of an addition was approved. The estimated cost of the addition was $175,000 [$1,535,000 in 2018 dollars]. It was to consist of an additional Chapel for the Reform Congregation, seven Hebrew School Classrooms, a multi-purpose room for social and recreational purposes and a new modern Kosher Kitchen, also adequate office space. Alexander Morchower was Building Fund Treasurer and Morris Zudick was in charge of construction.

In June 1958, I, as President of the Center, officiated at the ground breaking ceremonies. It was an occasion well attended by our members, Church Dignitaries and prominent officials of the area.

The addition was completed and the Dedication Weekend was held on April 29th to May 1, 1960.

We enjoyed this wonderful building for 50 years. It has served our religious and spiritual needs, our recreational and educational purposes and it has become more than an edifice of stone, steel, and wood. It has given to all of us at one time or another and to some of us all of the time the warmth and joy of many happy and joyous occasions and it is with this hope for the future that my history of this Center ends.


Please see our Digital Library for an annotated version with additional historical details and explanations as well as other artifacts.

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