By Dave Rosen (written in 1985)

       In 1903, when Barnett and Esther Waisbain with their two daughters (Bertha, 8 years old, and Mary, 5 years old) arrived in Paulsboro, they found that they were the only Jewish family in town. Bertha and Mary entered Buck Street School and “Papa” opened his family clothing store that year. A third daughter, Goldie, was born in Paulsboro.

    In addition to the Waisbain family, other Jewish families began to arrive: the Segals, the Brickmans (who were related to the Waisbains), the Moss family, the Abermans, and the Zeff family. Also, prior to World War I, there was a small influx of families (some related to each other): the families of Harry Weiss, Morris Lotstein, Paul First, Sam Lotstein, Al and Max Glickman, Tom Hamburg, and Al Sanft, as well as the Feldmans, Pinskys, Weinmans, and Gross family.

    After World War I, additional families arrived, still some related to families already in Paulsboro, which became an active business town.

    With the post-war building boom, it is estimated that Mr. Waisbain built over 100 hundred homes in Paulsboro and about the same amount in Ventnor and Margate, New Jersey.

    The Waisbains had the first pleasure automobile in Paulsboro, and Bertha became the first female to secure a driving license in town. She was the first Jew to graduate from Paulsboro High School, followed later by Mary. Bertha’s daughter, Leilah, graduated from P.H.S., making that family the first Jewish family to have a parent and child graduate from P.H.S.

    Mary graduated and married Abe Brown, a physician from Philadelphia, where they made their home. Not long after graduating, Bertha married, but the marriage failed.

    Although she was left with a child, she began her studies toward a law degree at Temple University. This was a most difficult task because there was no bridge over the Delaware River to Philadelphia. It was either by train or bus to Camden, then a ferry to Philadelphia, and then trolley connections to Temple University. She graduated in 1928, and became an attorney in 1929, making her the first Jewish woman to graduate from Temple Law School. She then petitioned the court to assume her maiden name, which was granted. It was quite an accomplishment for a woman to become both a mother and a lawyer at that time, but for her to assume her maiden name was real avant-garde!

    By that time the Waisbain family had accumulated a very large amount of real estate, and Bertha was kept busy handling the family business. Papa Waisbain died in 1939. Harry Weiss also became a very active builder and developer. He developed a number of areas in Paulsboro, Woodbury, and Gibbstown. There is an area in Gibbstown known as Weiss’ Hill, and a street is named for Weiss and another one for Newton Weiss (Newton Ave.).

    With the coming of the great depression, the Waisbains managed to retain most of their holdings; however, Harry Weiss lost most of his. Later he started another retail business. The first one, a furniture store, he sold to Sam Getz and Louis Schecter. His new business succeeded and he raised five children and became the patriarch of the Jewish community.

    Those surviving the depression and some new comers were: Max Karp, Lou Borish, Sam Ness, Sam Rosenfield, Joe Ness, Mr. Lutzner, Joe Kasdin and Martin Jaspin, Harry Joseph, Harold Sacks, Sam Waxman, and Charles Cotton, an attorney who later became Gloucester County prosecutor. Others included Dr. Morris Block, Dr. Henry Spiegel, Abe Greenspan, and S.B. Harris (family clothing store), Barney Nathan, Ed Dorfman, Joe Cohen, Leon Brown, jeweler Dr. George Brown, Manny Karp, and E. Bernard Sirotta, M.D., who was the second Jewish doctor to practice in Gloucester County. The first Jewish M.D. was Louis Ruttenburg, who practiced in Mantua. These people and their families made up the Jewish business and professional community; the Jacobsons of Mount Royal were also considered part of the Jewish community.

    During World War II those eligible from Paulsboro and Gibbstown, entered the Armed Forces to serve their country. Among those that gave their lives were: Lt. Jules Glickman of Gibbstown, Captain Albert Frost of Woodbury, and Lt. Benjamin Cummings of Glassboro. War Vets Post # 604 was named The Frost-Glickman Jewish Community Center in their honor.

    After the war, the men returned home, some with new brides and new careers. Herman Weiss resumed his dental practice and Dr. Sirotta resumed his medical practice.

    The new comers included: Ben Solof, Harry Schmerling, the Rubin brothers, Sam Gross, Sid Nessinger and David Rosen; also arriving in Paulsboro were Herb Frost, Dr. Oscar Katz and George Malkin, who later moved to Gibbstown. There were also Mollie Hamilton, Sam Levin, Sam Hamilton, Irv Rubin and Lou Lotstein, Myer Silverstein, Aaron Sirotta, Dr. Arthur Zack, Bill Roaen and Aaron Levitsky. The people and their families comprised the Jewish Community, which now had reached its peak.

    In 1948 the Jewish Community purchased a building.This was the first and only Jewish Community property in the area. (A men’s group and a women’s group known as the Paulsboro Jewish Community Club had existed from the late thirties, but met in rented halls or private hones.) The newly purchased building served as a community center as well as a religious center when needed. A Sunday school also was held here for the growing families. Ada Rosen served as the first teacher. This building was the social center of Jewish life in Paulsboro.

    The children of the families graduated from high school and college and went on to pursue their vocations and professions. Almost no one wanted to continue the businesses of their parents.

    The exception is the Weiss family. At the present time there is a business bearing the Weiss name and run by Newton Weiss and a grandson of Harry Weiss, Marc Kamp.

    The Jewish Community has seen a complete change. At the start of 1985, there remained only four Jewish families in Paulsboro, two in Gibbstown, and one in Mt. Royal. However, the Jewish people feel that they have served their community well and have left their mark in the community.

    Politically, Dr. George Brown was the first Jew elected to borough council in 1950, followed by Dave Rosen, who served 12 years and still continues officially to serve in city government. Dr. Herman Weiss was the first Jew elected to the Paulsboro Board of Education. Ada Rosen, a teacher at Paulsboro High School, had the longest continuous appointment since 1950, as a representative on the Mayor’s Civil Right’s Commission since 1950.

    Because of a lack of people in the Jewish community, The Jewish Community Center was sold. With the money, a permanent Scholarship was so endowed to the Paulsboro High School in the name of Paulsboro Jewish Community Club. Also a permanent scholarship was also endowed in the name of George Malkin for the Gibbstown School. A room was purchased in the Beth Israel Synagogue in Woodbury. The room is known as the Paulsboro Jewish Community Clubroom. The club still exists and the main function is to give away the remaining money at the rate of $1,500.00 plus interest each year to Jewish charitable causes.

    At the present time, 1985, there is one Jewish family under 50 years of age. Those that remain feel that Paulsboro has been good to the Jews, and that the Jews have served Paulsboro well, politically, professionally, and business-wise.

    The purpose of this paper is to let the record show that there was a viable Jewish Community in Paulsboro. Regardless of the size of the Jewish Community, its existence and its contributions over the years resulted in the betterment of Paulsboro.

The above information was compiled and written by Dave Rosen, with professional assistance from his dear wife, Ada

For more history, click here for “Jacob Bibo and the History of Woodbury’s Beth Israel Synagogue,” an article that appeared in the City of Woodbury newsletter, December 2021.


The Many Faces of CBTBI