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Middlesex County

MIDDLESEX COUNTY, county on the eastern coast of New Jersey, southwest of New York City, U.S.; estimated total Jewish population of 55,000 in 2005. The majority of Jewish settlers in Middlesex County were traders and peddlers. Most of the information about Jewish immigrants comes from court and land records. Aaron and Jacob Lozada owned a grocery and hardware store in Bound Brook, on the border between Middlesex County and Somerset County, as early as 1718, and helped form a synagogue ten years later. The next mention of a synagogue, Congregation Anshe Emeth of New Brunswick, is found in an 1861 land record. A court record from 1722 lists Daniel Nunez as town clerk and tax collector of Piscataway Township and justice of the peace for Middlesex County. Perth Amboy was an important Jewish center for Jewish merchants from the time that it was named capital of East Jersey in 1685. The first Jewish religious service was held here in 1890 in the home of a local Jewish resident. A mikveh was constructed shortly thereafter and Rosh ha-Shanah and Day of Atonement services were held at the Perth Amboy Savings Bank. When the size of the Jewish community increased, a building was purchased in about 1900 under the name of the Hebrew Mutual Aid Society. This subsequently became Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh which was dedicated on October 29, 1903. In 1904 a burial ground was purchased and a free Hebrew school was organized. The founders of the second congregation came from Perth Amboy, Metuchen, and South Amboy. It was incorporated on August 2, 1895. The first meeting places were in homes. In 1897 a synagogue was built and called Temple Beth Mordecai after a deceased son of Henry Wolff, one of the founders. In April 1927 the temple was dedicated. The Perth Amboy YMHA was formed in 1908 and was the first YMHA built in the state to have its own building rather than a rented one.

Middlesex County's prominent political figures included David T. Wilentz of Perth Amboy, the first Jewish New Jersey attorney general (1934–44), prosecutor in the Lindbergh kidnapping trial, and New Jersey national Democratic committeeman (1964–70); his son Robert Wilentz, also of Perth Amboy, state assemblyman from 1966 to 1970; Arthur J. Sills of Metuchen, state attorney general from 1962 to 1970; Donald Wernik, mayor of Metuchen in 1970; and Norman Tanzman of Woodbridge, who was elected state senator in 1962. By the 1970s the Jews of Middlesex County were mainly engaged in the professions and as business executives. Meryl Harris was the mayor of Highland Park and Brian Levine the mayor of Franklin Township. Linda Greenstein and Amy Handlin were members of the State Assembly and Barbara Buono was the State Senator.

The Federation of Middlesex County sponsors the Jewish Community Relations Committee, a Professional Networking Group, a Joint Chaplaincy Program, as well as a Missions program. It also supports a Jewish Home for the Aged, Jewish Family and Vocational Services, two Jewish community centers, a Solomon Schechter School in East Brunswick, the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School in Edison, as well as the Rabbi Pesach Raymond Yeshiva also in Edison. There is also an I.L. Peretz Community Jewish School, one of the few remaining secular humanist schools of its kind. Synagogues have been established in East Brunswick, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Highland Park, Edison, Monroe Township, South River, Carteret, Woodbridge, Metuchen, Old Bridge, Somerset. The Orthodox community established an eruv in Highland Park and in East Brunswick. The Hillel House at Rutgers University is quite active, along with the Allen and Joan Bildner Center. There is also a Chabad House on campus.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.