THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF NEW JERSEY (JMNJ) was founded in 2003 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation in the State of New Jersey. The museum is housed at Congregation Ahavas Sholom, a state and national landmark and the oldest continually active synagogue in Newark.
HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
The concept for a Jewish museum emerged after visits by founder and former Board President Joseph Selzer to the Jewish Museum of Florida which is located in a restored 1936 synagogue in Miami Beach. Subsequently, it was realized that the State of New Jersey, which has the fourth largest Jewish population in the country and can trace its Jewish roots to the 17th century, did not have a permanent state-wide museum to preserve and exhibit the state’s Jewish history. To fill this void, Mr. Selzer formed a small group of interested individuals to provide the leadership for the establishment of a Jewish museum in New Jersey.
WHY DO WE NEED A JEWISH MUSEUM IN NEW JERSEY?
Almost one-half million people in New Jersey are Jewish – the 4th largest in the country. Organized Jewish communities exist in all of the state’s 21 counties. Jews on an ongoing basis have made major contributions in the state. The Museum will have an important impact on the Jewish residents throughout New Jersey. By creating The Jewish Museum of New Jersey, the state will have its first centralized location with permanent, rotating, and traveling installations for the research, preservation, and exhibition of more than 400 years of Jewish history in New Jersey. No other organization has undertaken such a unique and substantial endeavor.
In addition, children and adults, Jewish and non-Jewish, will benefit from the Museum’s projects and presentations on tolerance and diversity, historical tours of “old Jewish Newark,” and inter-faith programs with local churches and mosques. The Museum will also serve as a dynamic contributor to the revitalization of its neighborhood, the rebirth of the 100-year-old Ahavas Sholom congregation, and the renaissance taking place in the state’s largest city.
It will also be an exciting addition to the cultural fabric of Newark as it joins the Newark Museum, The Newark Public Library, the NJ Historical Society, the Newark History Society, the NJ Performing Arts Center, and the Prudential Center as premiere educational and artistic venues in the city.
To the Jewish community throughout New Jersey, the creation of a state-wide Jewish Museum is a long-awaited and welcomed development.
WHAT ARE OUR PLANS FOR THE MUSEUM?
The Museum includes space for permanent, rotating and traveling exhibitions; a small library and media center; an office; and a gift shop. Presentations at the Museum will have themes that resonate with Jewish people in New Jersey utilizing photographs, paintings, panel displays, artifacts, text, music and multi-media. Exhibits might feature such topics as local Holocaust survivors, Jewish immigration in the state, Newark’s Jewish community, history of Sephardim in NJ, Jewish farmers in South Jersey, role of NJ Jews in the civil rights movement, Jewish film moguls in NJ, popular Jewish resorts like Bradley Beach, Lakewood and Mount Freedom, and the many Jewish individuals who have distinguished themselves in sports, entertainment, literature, education, government, labor, industry, and the military.
Moreover, the JMNJ will serve a larger purpose, developing educational and cultural programs that promote greater understanding between individuals representing different backgrounds and religions. It will reach out to other groups, creating meaningful conversations and activities around topics such as cultural diversity, social justice, prejudice, nonviolence, and shared religious values.
Moreover, it will form partnerships and develop age-appropriate activities for public, private and parochial school students. The location of the Museum in a city with many ethnic and religious groups provides a wonderful opportunity to establish itself as the first center for the study of tolerance in New Jersey.
WHY IS THE MUSEUM HOUSED AT AHAVAS SHOLOM IN NEWARK?
Congregation Ahavas Sholom, which last year celebrated its Centennial milestone, represents a unique story of survival in a city that now has few Jewish residents. During the past 15 years, the synagogue has experienced a rebirth with a diverse membership of more than 300 – some who come from Iran, Sudan, Brazil and Peru. The sanctuary, which is adorned by a magnificent wooden carved Holy Ark (the oldest in the state) will be a major Museum exhibit providing an outstanding example of how a small orthodox shul once looked.
Recently, the outside of the synagogue building was restored, an elevator was installed, and a handicapped accessible ramp was completed. Currently, funds are being raised for the restoration of the interior. As the last surviving synagogue in Newark, it also serves as a the only remaining portal to Newark’s thriving Jewish community of year’s past when the Jewish population of Newark reached a high of 70,000 with more than 50 synagogues. Today the city is viewed as the birthplace of Judaism in New Jersey.