A talk will highlight Camden's Jewish past

Clerk Henry Schreibstein (left) at a hardware store in 1918. His daughter, Ruth Bogutz, has researched Camden's Jewish past.
Clerk Henry Schreibstein (left) at a hardware store in 1918. His daughter, Ruth Bogutz, has researched Camden's Jewish past. (Tri-County Jewish Historical Society Archives)
Posted: September 23, 2012

The sepia-tone photographs, some dating from the early 1900s, tell the story of another era, when Camden had a close-knit Jewish community, when residents along Kaighns and Haddon Avenues knew each other for generations and showed up to land a hand when someone was sick.

Through most of the 20th century, Jewish shopkeepers, judges, lawyers, and doctors helped build the city, and developed institutions and agencies to care for others in the community.

For Ruth Bogutz, the images she has collected evoke warm memories of a golden age in Camden - from about 1920 to 1970 - before its Jewish residents dispersed to the suburbs.

Bogutz, former executive director of the Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission and president of the Tri-County Jewish Historical Society, will describe those times at 2 p.m. Sunday during a presentation at the Camden County Historical Society on Park Boulevard.

"I witnessed a lot of this history firsthand, and it is truly amazing what people with limited means were able to accomplish and the institutions they were able to build," said the Cherry Hill resident, who was born at Cooper Hospital in 1938. "They took pride in what they were doing and created the fabric of a community."

Many Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe, where they had been forced to live in ghettos, and their families, homes, businesses, and places of worship were targets of violence.

In the 1880s, especially in Parkside and East Camden, they found work and built synagogues. As many as seven temples stood in Camden in the latter 19th century, including Sons of Israel, the first Orthodox synagogue in South Jersey.

Other Jews lived in agricultural colonies in Cumberland, Salem, and Cape May Counties.

From 1920 to 1970 "was a wonderful time for Jews living in Camden," Bogutz said. "They set up shop, living above the stores and raising their families."

They "took care of themselves and each other," she said. "They also cared for non-Jews."

Residents established a social safety net through neighbor-to-neighbor contact and organizations such as Jewish Family Service.

Bogutz's father, Henry Schreibstein, had a business, Harry's Plumbing Supply, at 440 Kaighns Ave. and operated it after the family moved to Haddonfield when Ruth Bogutz was 16.

In the 1920s, 2,000 Jews lived in Camden, according to the Camden County Historical Society. In 1948, the society has reported, more than 7,500 of the city's 120,000 residents were Jewish.

In 1967, Sons of Israel moved to Cherry Hill, following the migration of Jews to the suburbs. A later population study estimated that by 1991 the Jewish population of the region had grown to about 50,000, with only a handful of Jews left within Camden City proper.

"I joined the staff of the Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission in 1985 and realized everybody had histories," Bogutz said. "There was lady writing a history of the Chinese community in South Jersey, and others were writing the histories of churches.

"It dawned on me that nobody was putting down the history of the Jews in this region."

Bogutz began to collect the photos and memorabilia that now are part of the society's collection. Some of the images will be in her presentation.

"I am by no means a scholar, but I am a student - and a witness - to this time in Camden's history," Bogutz said. "Camden was a great place to live.

"It was a joy. You to have to know where you started, where the building blocks of your community began."


Ruth Bogutz will present "Character, Compassion, Community: The Story of Camden's Jewish Community" at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Camden County Historical Society, 1900 Park Blvd., Camden. Admission is free. Information: 856-964-3333 or www.cchsnj.com.

Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

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