Newark's Jewish Community: Pre and Post 1967 Rebellion

Jul 10, 2017

Newark was once home to many synagogues
Credit The Jewish Society of New Jersey

The population of Newark, and the Jewish Community in particular, dwindled drastically after the 1967 Newark Rebellion. While some call it “white flight,” others say the national push towards suburbanization pulled them away.

Over 65,000 people once made up Newark’s Jewish community. William Helmreich, author and educator, says an undue amount of blame is placed on the 1967 Newark Rebellion for pushing them out. 

“When all is said and done, the real reason why Newark declined as a Jewish community was for many reasons Jews wanted to move to the suburbs. And the reason for the Blacks coming to power was because when it all ended they were the largest group that was left,” Helmreich said.

Bob Schapiro, Courage Under Fire chair and previous president of New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, says the term “white flight” is incorrect when referring to the Jewish community leaving Newark.

“I think the term white flight conjures images that are just completely wrong for this. White flight conjures the image of: some people from a different ethnic group move into your neighborhood, everybody moves away as fast as they can to a lily white suburb and then goes to private school,” Schapiro said.

Warren Grover, lifelong Newarker and co-founder of the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey, says there was an increase in crime that pushed Jews out of the city.

“On the same street my grandmother lives on, she was already 80 years old, she was coming home with some groceries. After school a bunch of black girls tackled her, threw her down, threw her groceries on the street, then, adding insult to injury, took her eyeglasses and stepped on them. And they then said, as my grandmother repeated, this is no longer a white area, get out!” Grover said.

Richard Cammarieri’s family grew up in Newark’s Central Ward. He nows works for New Community Corporation and has devoted much of his life to activism. Cammareiri says real estate brokers manipulated the public by engaging in blockbusting.

“Agents would come onto the block and say to the white families, ‘look, all of these colored people are moving in, do you know what’s going to happen to your property values. You better get out now while you can.’ The white families would sell low to the real estate agents, they would turn abound and sell to the black families who were trying to buy. The whole thing was part of this systemic, morbidly destructive systemic process, in terms of hollowing out parts of cities depending on, you know, how black and brown they were starting to become,” Cammarieri said.

Bob Schapiro says it was new infrastructure, not blockbusting that pushed the Jews out of the city’s south ward.

“The real death blow was the construction of Route 78. And that just decimated blocks and blocks and blocks and cut the community entirely in two and that was not done by the black community, that was done by the white power structure at city hall.”

Author William B. Helmreich was one of those who believe Newark's Jewish community was pulled out of the city by surburbanization
Credit William B. Helmreich for WBGO

The Enduring Community: The Jews of Newark author William Helmreich believes the Jewish community made a conscience decision to leave the city.

“You have Jews saying the riots brought about Newark’s destruction. That’s not true. Jews were leaving after World War II. Why do they say that? Because if they say the community ended because we got up and left, that’s not a very nice thing to say. That means you cut and you ran, and you deserted the community,” Helmreich said.

Newark in the fifties and sixties saw one of the largest Jewish populations in the country disperse into the greater Metropolitan area. Some see it as members in the community deserting each other; others see it as an effect of the rapid suburbanization of the 1950s; and still others see it as a natural part of community expansion.