For Jerry Gordon, life has basically come full circle. Born and bred in Atlantic City, the self-published author of From Its Beginnings: The Jewish Community of the Atlantic City Area has returned to his boyhood home to chronicle the long-standing Jewish presence in the resort.
“I started out working for the Woolworth Company. After 35 years there, I got into publishing directories with advertising directed to the Jewish community. A few years ago I returned to the area. When I started this book six years ago, I set out to capture the cultural life, not just the religious aspect of Judaism.”
Working as a volunteer at the Atlantic City Library and the Atlantic County Historical Society has allowed Gordon’s access to troves of historical material. However, his research uncovered a number of facets of the Jewish presence that surprised him.
“The synagogue life in Atlantic City was very strong at one time. Organizations for immigrants like the Workman’s Circle were very big. Yet the hotels had restrictions. That’s what created the need for the side avenue kosher hotels. But once Jews were allowed into the Boardwalk hotels, that eliminated the need for the side avenue establishments. “
Though an anti-Semitic climate existed in vacation rentals, home ownership for the Jewish community presented a stark contrast.
“The demographics started changing in the ‘50’s. We didn’t face any discrimination in housing, so the synagogue life migrated down to Ventnor and Margate. It really mirrored what was happening in the rest of the country. I don’t think it was unique to Atlantic City. People wanted their own homes, that suburban life.”
While others may crave the suburbs, Jerry Gordon has returned to his city to write about the history of his people.
-John “Yonk” Rosnick