UNION COUNTY, county in N.E. New Jersey. Of Union County's 532,000 residents (2004 census), about 35,000 were Jews. Major Jewish communities are in Elizabeth-Hillside, Westfield, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Union, Cranford, and Linden.
Although German Jews came to Elizabeth in the middle of the 19th century, by 1880 only 25 families had settled there. At the turn of the century, immigrants came from Eastern Europe; there were 550 Jewish families in 1905 and the large influx continued until a limit was placed on immigration in 1920. In the mid-1930s, 10,000 Jews lived in Elizabeth, a number of them American-born. A parallel settlement occurred in Plainfield where four congregations and two charitable associations were already active in 1904. The Plainfield community grew to 6,000 Jews in 1960.
YM-YWHA's were founded in Elizabeth in 1883 and in Plainfield in 1929, and a Jewish community council for eastern Union County based in Elizabeth in 1940, and one in Plainfield in 1937. In 2006 one synagogue struggled to continue its existence in Plainfield, where most of the Jewish population had moved to Somerset County, while Elizabeth continued to attract young families.
The major difference was the strength of the Jewish Educational Center (JEC), founded by Rav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz. The JEC grew from a mikveh and an elementary school, founded in 1940, to high schools, five synagogues (with a Sephardi as well as an Ashkenazi minyan in one synagogue), a second mikveh, an institute for Talmud study for college-age
Three distinctive features of Elizabeth are that it is a united kehillah; it is a center for Holocaust survivors who were integrated into the community and joined in all facets of Jewish life; aliyah is encouraged, with more than 100 families, especially those of scientists who worked in research in nearby pharmaceutical, communications, and other companies, settling in Israel.
The YM-YWHA is now on Green Lane in Union, near Kean University, at the edge of Elizabeth's Elmora section. The Wilf Jewish Community Campus of Central New Jersey, located in Scotch Plains, is a major Jewish Community Center. The Jewish Family Service (www.jfscentralnj.com) is in Elizabeth with branches in Fanwood and Warren (Somerset County).
Temple Emanu-El in Westfield had over 1,100 members (2005) (www.tewnj.org); Beth Israel in Scotch Plains had 463 members (2005); the JEC in Elizabeth had over 1,000 members (2005) (www.thejec.org). B'nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Elizabeth, merged with a congregation of the same name in Millburn in 1992, a few years after its centennial, while Beth El, a Reform synagogue founded in 1950, also closed.
P. Wolgin, "Visions of America, Visions of Judaism: Jewish Immigrant Community Development, Elizabeth, N.J., 1900–1950," paper presented for the Elizabeth Historical Society (May 5, 2005).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.