Oheb Shalom Cemetery


Please visit the official website of the Oheb Shalom Cemetery.

 

Oheb Shalom Cemetery is located at 1321 North Broad Street, Hillside, New Jersey. I justify this cemetery's inclusion in this Newark website by Meyer Ellenstein and Frank Grad being buried here, plus the fact that the old synagogue was located in Newark.

This is actually the second cemetery that Congregation Oheb Shalom owned and managed. Oheb's first cemetery plot was in the larger B'nai Abraham cemetery, located in the West Ward of Newark, south of South Orange Avenue. This cemetery in Hillside was organized in the first decade of the 1900s on land that I presume had been part of Evergreen Cemetery.

 

Oheb Shalom is Newark's third oldest synagogue, after B'nai Jeshuron and B'nai Abraham. Oheb Shalom was organized in 1859, as a result of a schism within B'nai Jeshurun over keeping Jewish law.

Like B'nai Jeshurun, Oheb Shalom moved around in its first few years before building a fine Moorish building on Prince Street and then a neoclassical structure on High Street. In 1958, Oheb Shalom became the first of Newark's "Big Three" synagogues to relocate to the suburbs, in this case, to South Orange.

While a congregational is moveable, a cemetery is not. This cemetery will always remain in Hillside. Unlike the West Ward Jewish cemeteries, which are attached to long-gone synagogues and burial societies, Oheb Shalom's cemetery is very well maintained. Oheb Shalom Cemetery operates in parallel to Oheb Shalom synagogue, but is technically an independent corporation.

A vista of the Oheb Shalom Cemetery, taken from just within the gates.
The Oheb Shalom genizah is in the entrance section of the cemetery.

In Judaism, a physical copy of the Bible is sacred. Anything with G-d's name written on it must be treated with respect, even a book or letter on a secular subject. When books or torah scrolls inevitably wear-out the tradition is to bury them in the ground or seal them up in a special chamber within a synagogue. The word "genezah" means "treasure."

The most famous genizah is the genizah of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, the so-called "Cairo genizah". The Cairo Genizah contains documents going back one thousand years and relate to many parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The well-preserved papers have enormously enriched our understanding of the Bible, the Medieval Arab world, and the Jewish people.

This photo gives you an idea of the area of the geniza.
This is the burial plot of the Roth family, major donors to Oheb Shalom.

Lazar Roth was a butcher in the vicinity of Prince Street who, according to Oheb Shalom historian David Schechner, "liked to do things in a big way." He stipulated that an honorary plaque with his name on it be as large as the honorary plaques for the rabbis themselves.

Above ground burial is forbidden in traditional Judaism. Most non-Orthodox cemeteries, like Oheb Shalom and B'nai Jeshurun, allow mausoleums anyway. The tradition has apparently not been practiced throughout Jewish history, for instance, at the time of Jesus the custom was for bones to be put in special bone boxes (ossuaries), after the flesh had decomposed.

There are several reasons for the ban. The Bible says in Genesis 3:19: “For you are dust and to dust shall you return.” Above ground burial interferes with the body's reunion with the earth. Another reason is that gaudy tombs are considered superfluous when everyone is equal in death. A final reason is the belief that at the time of the messiah, the dead will travel through the ground to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where they will be resurrected. If the dead are not in the ground, this cannot occur.

The three identical tombs in the distance in this photo belong to members of the Hollander family.

One of the most notable people to be buried at Oheb Shalom is the architect Frank Grad (1882-1968), Newark's first Jewish architect.

Born in Austria, Frank Grad was educated at the Newark Arts School (the forerunner of Arts High School). He began his Newark architectural practice in 1906. Grad was capable of working in many styles, from the Beaux-Arts, YMHA on on MLK Boulevard, to the Spanish colonial Stanley Theater and Beth Israel Hospital, to the Neo-Classical Symphony Hall, to the Art Deco 1180 Raymond Boulevard (aka, the Lefcourt Building). Several of Grad's greatest commissions, the YMHA, the Stanley Theater, Beth Israel, and the Lefcourt Building, were for Jewish patrons. Like Meyer Ellenstein, Grad died shortly after the riots. His firm, Grad Associates was continued by his sons after Grad died. Grad Associates peaked in the 1980s when there were over 130 architects working there but closed in the winter of 2010, a victim of the Great Recession.

The Parsonnet family has been active with Newark Beth Israel hospital for four generations. Dr. Victor Parsonnet performed the world's first pacemaker surgery in 1961. The family has also been generous to the arts, contributing to NJPAC.
A rabbi's grave. Rabbi Altman did not have a long tenure at Oheb Shalom.
A child's grave. In the 1920s it was the style to have the signature of the interred on a monument. Here that custom was extended to a child.
Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Metrowest
Here lies Meyer "Doc" Ellenstein, whose fame comes from presiding over Newark during the Great Depression and from being the only Jewish mayor of Newark.

Born in New York City, the good-looking Ellenstein was a boxer and a Patterson silk-factory worker becoming becoming a dentist, then a lawyer.

Like all mayors of Newark, Meyer Ellenstein and his city commission were widely thought to be corrupt. In 1933, Charles Becker formed a "Newark Taxpayers Protective League" to publicize city governmen misspending. Most of the allegations of wrong-doing involved the Port of Newark and the nascent Newark airport. For instance, at the port the city spent $190,000 for land offered at $16,000 two years before. A year later the city spent $78,000 for land worth $7,000 at the airport. The police department bought a $500 door. The superintendent of the Newark Boys Home got a $5,000 office. Mayor Ellenstein's own law firm handled 1,000 tax appeals.

In 1937, Mayor Ellenstein and a several other members of the city commission were indicted. No matter what chicanery actually took place, Ellenstein did admit to knowing Longy Zwillman, one of the two biggest gangsters in Newark. Ellenstein and his associates were acquited, but many people believed he was guilty anyway.

Less well known about Ellenstein were his accomplishments in enlarging Newark airport and in working successfully with the Pennsylvania Railroad on the ongoing Penn Station project. Unbelieveably, Ellenstein nearly got the New York Stock Exchange to move to Newark. As the commissioner of public works after World War II, Ellenstein was instrumental in persuading Anheuser-Busch to build a brewery in Newark. (stock exchange source, Cummings, August 8, 2002)

Ellenstein was also a friend to African-Americans. In the 1920s he advertised Newark to poor blacks in the South (this was controversial) and was an ally of Irvine Turner, Newark's first black councilman.

Ellenstein died in February 1967, at age 78. In his will he gave $200,000 to the West Orange YMHA.

These are some of the oldest graves at Oheb Shalom Cemetery. The density of the graves reminds me of the old Newark Jewish cemeteries I have seen.
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