Jews have lived throughout the state from the northern border with New York State to the southern border with Delaware and Pennsylvania, on the eastern coast as well as within the suburban New York communities. The largest concentration of Jews is in Bergen County (83,700), Essex County (76,200), Monmouth County (65,000), Middlesex County (45,000), Cherry Hill and southern New Jersey (49,000), Ocean County in the Northeast (29,000), Union County (30,000), and Atlantic and Cape May counties (15,800). While cities such as Newark, Paterson, and Camden were once the scene of thriving Jewish communities, Jews in New Jersey tend to be suburban and to a lesser extent exurban. New Jersey granted religious tolerance to its citizens as early as 1665, and the state constitution of 1844 abolished all religious qualifications for voting and holding public office.
Although the first organized Jewish communities in New Jersey were not established until the middle of the 19th century, Jewish merchants from Philadelphia and New York conducted business in the state as early as the 17th century. Among the first Jewish settlers were Aaron and Jacob Lozada, who owned a grocery and hardware store in Bound Brook as early as 1718. Daniel Nunez appears in a 1722 court record as town clerk and tax collector for Piscataway Township and justice of the peace for Middlesex County. Perth Amboy, on the Trenton-Philadelphia road, was a center for Jewish and other merchants from the time it became the capital of East Jersey in 1685. Among the early prominent settlers in the state was David Naar , who was active at the state constitutional convention in 1844, became mayor of Elizabeth in 1849, and purchased the Trenton True American newspaper in 1853. Naar was instrumental in developing the first public school and public library in Trenton.
German Jews settled in Trenton , the state capital, in the 1840s, the most prominent among them being Simon Kahnweiler, a merchant and manufacturer. The Mt. Sinai Cemetery Association was incorporated in the town in 1857 and Har Sinai Congregation held its first service in 1858. The first organized Jewish community in New Jersey was in Newark (see Essex County ), where Congregation B'nai Jeshurun was incorporated in 1848. Other early communities with organized congregations included: Paterson (1847), New Brunswick (1861), Jersey City (1864), Bayonne (1878), Elizabeth (1881), Vineland (1882), Passaic (1899), Perth Amboy (1890), Atlantic City (1890), Woodbine (1891), Camden (1894), and Englewood (1896; see Bergen County ).
Newark once boasted a vibrant community of 80,000 Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe. They started out destitute and within a generation had achieved a prosperity
Demographically (1970), New Jersey was divided into two major areas of settlement – northeastern New Jersey, from Bergen County to Middlesex County, which included nearly 300,000 Jews, and the Camden area, near Philadelphia, which included about 18,000 Jews – as well as the northeastern shore area (Long Branch and Asbury Park), the southeastern shore (Atlantic City, 10,000 Jews), the Trenton area (10,000 Jews), and other smaller communities. The Jewish population of New Jersey, which was dependent upon the economic development in the northeastern sector of the state, both for employment and market outlets in nearby New York City, grew from an estimated 5,600 in 1880, to 25,000 in 1900, 40,000 in 1905, 70,000 in 1907, 258,306 in 1927, and leveled off to 259,970 in 1937. By 1969 there were 387,000 Jews in the state. Whereas a third of the state's Jewish population resided in Newark in 1937, by the late 1960s the overwhelming majority of the Jews in the northeastern area (as was also true of the general population) lived in the suburban areas of Bergen, Essex, Hudson , Passaic, and Union Counties .
The economic life of New Jersey during the last half of the 19th century was largely dominated by the German Jewish community, which was small in number and engaged in small businesses and merchandising. By the end of the 1920s the waves of East European immigrants from Russia and Poland had changed the demographic nature of the northeastern part of the state. The silk industry of Paterson – largely in the hands of Polish Jews who had worked in the textile industry in Lodz and Bialystok – and the garment industry in Jersey City and Newark, as well as the woolen and worsted mills of Passaic, drew heavily upon the East European and Slavic population of the area. Sephardic families from the Mediterranean and the Balkans settled in New Brunswick and Atlantic City. Between 1912 and 1924 the Sephardim constituted about one third of the Jewish community of 2,500 in New Brunswick. Many worked at Johnson & Johnson, U.S. Rubber, and Michelin Tire. Michelin was a French company, and because many of the Sephardim spoke French, it was an attraction as a workplace. The original members of the Atlantic City community came from many areas of the Middle East, and some worked for or ran auction houses or galleries on the Boardwalk. In the 1970s a large group moved from a Syrian enclave in Brooklyn (their ancestors were from Aleppo and Damascus) to Monmouth County, particularly Deal, Bradley Beach, and Elberon near the Atlantic Ocean. Strictly observant, the community flourished through the early years of the 21st century.
The Jewish colonies of Vineland, Carmel, Woodbine, Rosenhayn, and others, which were started in the late 19th century in southern New Jersey, were helped initially by the Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Baron de Hirsch Fund. Some of the communities, such as Carmel and Woodbine, found the soil generally poor and inadequate for agricultural uses, but Vineland, which had an estimated Jewish population of 2,450 in 1970, established a thriving poultry industry. Jews also played a significant role in the tourist industry of the shore areas of Lakewood, Long Branch, Asbury Park, and Atlantic City.
Jewish community life, which until World War II was largely distinguished by local congregations, Hebrew schools, Jewish centers, fraternal groups, and local philanthropic organizations of an Old World character, quickly changed in the 1950s and 1960s with the mass migration to the suburbs. Center city congregations merged and area-wide organizations like the Community Council of Passaic-Clifton, which administers the United Jewish Appeal, and the Passaic-Clifton Board of Rabbis, which supervises kashrut in the community, served a far-flung community. The Jews of Bergen and Essex counties, with more than 75,000 Jews each, were scattered among 100 communities – 70 separate municipalities in Bergen County alone. More than 100 Jewish organizations operated within Bergen County.
In recent years, younger Jews have moved from New York City to more affordable communities in New Jersey like Fort Lee, Jersey City and the gentrified Hoboken. Their influx was accelerated by an improvement in rail and bus service, which made Essex and adjacent counties a relatively easy commute into Manhattan.
Various community newspapers have appeared in the state since the beginning of the 20th century. In 1910 Mordechai Mansky began publication of the Newarker Wochenblat, a Yiddish weekly which appeared until 1914. Among the early Anglo-Jewish newspapers published were the Jewish Chronicle of Newark (founded in 1921), The Jewish Post of Paterson, and the Jewish Review of Jersey City. In 1947 the Jewish News, a weekly, was founded, and by 1969 it had a circulation of over 25,000, the largest of any community newspaper in New Jersey.
The Jewish News has been an influential voice in the New Jersey Jewish community for nearly 60 years. It publishes four editions, reaching more than 50,000 households. With its growth and mergers, the Jewish News, or NJJN, has become the second largest Jewish newspaper in America, and the largest-circulation weekly newspaper in the state.
Several New Jersey universities have thriving programs in Judaic Studies, and Richard Stockton University in the Atlantic City area offers a Master's Program in Holocaust teaching.
U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg remains the most prominent Jewish political leader in the state and one of its most important philanthropists. He was born, raised, and established his company in New Jersey (A.B. Data). For many years, he was the junior senator to Bill Bradley and then briefly its senior senator before retiring. Recalled into politics following a political scandal, he ran in 2004 and won again.
As of 2017, New Jersey's Jewish population was approximately 545,450 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.