Warren Grover, a graduate of Weequahic High School’s class of 1955, said he “was never a star” in high school.
Jacob Toporek, class of ’63, said “I was just trying to help out.”
Grover, 81, author of “Nazis in Newark” (2003, Transaction Publishers), the leading chronicle of the Third Reich’s attempt to mobilize Newark and Irvington’s sizable German population to its cause — and the narrative of the militant Jewish groups that prevented it — and Toporek, 73, who recently retired as the executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, will be among 20 alumni honored at the 2019 Weequahic Alumni Association Hall of Distinction Ceremony on Oct. 17 at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel.
“This is a nice honor,” said Grover. “I’m looking forward to the evening and happy to be recognized by Weequahic.” The 22nd annual event is a fund-raiser to benefit the students of Weequahic High School.
The plaudit also brought a smile to Toporek’s face.
“This just came about,” he said. “There is an impressive list of people.” It was compiled by retired Weequahic Alumni Association executive director Philip Yourish, 72, who was assisted by a group of committees.
“We have an excellent group of inductees this year,” said Yourish, an East Orange resident and retired Newark educator, who co-founded the group 22 years ago. “Warren and Jac are part of a marvelous bunch that includes New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver.” Also among the inductees are educator Stanley Markowitz ’55, Eli Hoffman ’56, president of the Jaqua Foundation, and law professor Paul Tractenberg ’56. Hal Braff ’52, who cofounded the alumni association, is among seven deceased inductees.
Yourish, a dedicated alumnus of Weequahic, told NJJN that from the school’s founding in Newark’s Southeast Ward in 1933, through the mid-to-late 1960s, it was a school with a sizeable Jewish presence. The neighborhood’s composition changed in 1967, as Newark was one of 158 cities across the U.S. affected by race riots labeled “The Long Hot Summer.”
“The Jewish population had been moving to the suburbs before that, but Weequahic became a largely African-American school,” as a result of the looting and upheaval, Yourish said.
Former residents of Weequahic, many of whom raised their families outside of Newark, maintained their emotional ties to the school. In 1997, Braff, Sheldon Bross ’55, and others founded the alumni association and so far, has raised nearly $500,000 in scholarship money for Weequahic students. Yourish said the association was formed to “honor the diverse group from our school that has contributed so much to society.”
“All the memories are priceless, and the bonds many of us still have are renewed,” at the annual dinner he said.
In different ways, Grover and Toporek fit the qualifications of having “contributed so much to society.”
Grover, an historian and Short Hills resident, introduced readers to such Jewish luminaries as Nat Arno, a prizefighter and gang member who led a tough militia-like group called the Minutemen. They protected Newark crime boss Abner “Longie” Zwillman’s bootleg whiskey shipments, then turned their attention to stopping the Nazis after Prohibition ended in 1933.
“With Jerome and Ruth Fien and Saul Schwarz, Warren was a key contributor in our founding,” said Linda Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest NJ (JHS), which was founded in 1990. He also served three terms as president of JHS, cofounded the Newark History Society where he is co-president, and serves on the board of the Jewish Museum of New Jersey in Newark.
Grover, with his wife, Andrea, a professor at New York University, is also a major contributor to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and donated his research and personal papers pertaining to Newark and the area to JHS.
“The Jewish history of Newark is very important to me,” said Grover. The Jewish Museum is based in the Conservative synagogue Ahavas Sholom. “This is the last example of an active synagogue in Newark, where there once were more than 50,” he said.
Many, in both the Jewish community and political circles, know Toporek, an Edison resident, from his work with the recently disbanded NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, an advocacy group working in Trenton on behalf of the state’s Jewish community. He has also worked with Yourish for decades in publishing a weekly newsletter for Weequahic alumni.
The newsletter began as a way to keep graduates from the class of 1963 connected to their alma mater.
“The idea was to keep the class of 1963 informed and see if we could raise some scholarship money for furthering present Weequahic students’ educations,” Toporek said. “Other classes joined in and we have raised about $40,000 for scholarships.
“I’ve really enjoyed doing this.”