Roberta Farber

Roberta Farber
Roberta Farber

Many years ago, native Patersonian Roberta Perez Farber was asked to write a guest column for the newspaper. She fretted over what to write, but then it came to her. She wrote about a time in the future, maybe 20-50 years ahead, about a female mayor of Paterson and the revitalization of the city's historic district and the Great Falls.

Roberta's commitment to Paterson began as a teenager babysitting Pay and Mary Ellen Kramer's children. She is proud of her heritage in the city which started with her mother's family who had come to Paterson from Lodz, Poland to work in the mills. Through pluck and persistence, Roberta worked with mentor, Mary Ellen Kramer, and many others to make her vision a reality. At the same time, Roberta presided over the Eastside Neighborhood Association, a volunteer position that led to employment as the city's Assistant Director of Economic Development and Urban Enterprise Zone Development (UEZD Director). In this role, she launched the Small Business Development Center. Election of a new mayor in 2002 terminated her tenure in that role, but Jersey City recognized her abilities and recruited her. There she toiled alongside iconic urban planner Bob Cotter. She brought the knowledge gained from eleven years in Jersey City back to Paterson, where she now serves as an integral member of the Paterson Task Force's management team.

 
 

Interview Transcript

Barbara Krasner
So today is Monday, July 2, and this is Barbara Krasner, Oral Historian for the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. And I'm here with Roberta Farber at the Paterson Task Force. Good morning!

Roberta Farber
Good morning!

Barbara Krasner
So, I'm going to start with a very broad question. And that is tell me about your connection to Paterson.

Roberta Farber
I am a lifelong resident of the city. I still live here. Went to Eastside High School, graduated from Eastside. Have been involved with the city, really, since I was thirteen years old, when I started babysitting for the, then, Mayor Kramer's children. Watched the grow up. Still watch them grow up. And got very involved with the Great Falls Festival, anything with the historic district, all through Mary Ellen Kramer. And then, Pat would give me history on the city- how the city runs, why things are the way they are. So, it became a broad and interesting time. My then husband- divorced now- but in Eastside Park in the city of Paterson, we're still friends. We have three children. I have five grandchildren. My mother is a lifelong Patersonian, who is also ninety-five years old now and can tell you stories about the city from when she was a kid and still does [?]. I have three sisters- all older. I'm the baby of the four girls. And, was President of my neighborhood association- the Eastside Neighborhood Association. Was one of the founding members there. Did the designer showcase house. We fought city hall a lot. I worked for the city for twelve years as Assistant Director of Economic Development and the Urban Enterprise Zone program. And then, went and worked for Jersey City for eleven years and then now back in the city working for the Paterson Task Force.

Barbara Krasner
Do you know how your family came to Paterson?

Roberta Farber
When my grandparents came, they did go through Ellis Island, my maternal grandparents. And they first lived in West New York and eventually made their way here. My grandfather owned a very small silk mill in Paterson at the time. Went through the Depression and all that kind of great stuff. We hear a lot of stories about the Depression. How they wound up in Paterson itself, that I do not know. But, they both wound up-

Barbara Krasner
Did he come from Poland?

Roberta Farber
Yes.

Barbara Krasner
From Lodz?

Roberta Farber
Yes, how did you know? You just gave me the chills.

Barbara Krasner
Oh, I'm a Jewish genealogist.

Roberta Farber
Wow. Ozorkow (Uzikov), we're from Ozorkow (Uzikov) from Lodz. And then, my father's family is from Passaic- he grew up in Passaic Park. He was a butcher. My grandfather was a butcher. My father's mother, my grandmother on my father's side, came from Canada and came down to the city. Then, my mother and father met working in a drapery store in Paterson. And my maiden name is Peres.

Barbara Krasner
Oh, okay.

Roberta Farber
Like Shimon.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. So, that's a really interesting name to come from Poland.

Roberta Farber
Well, they-

Barbara Krasner
It's Sephardic.

Roberta Farber
But, they changed. They supposedly changed it when they got to Ellis Island to Peres. And when I went to Israel, I was joking with everybody, well, if I run into Shimon, I'll ask him if we're related. Well, because I was such a dummy at the time, I'm sitting in the King David Hotel, waiting for the rest of my tour group, and I'm on one side, and there seemed to be a whole lot of security floating around. And across the lobby, there's a man sitting there on the phone, on this, on that, and couldn't really tell who he was. Little while later I see him get up and walk across. It was Shimon Peres. And they were having a meeting because it was in the papers the next day. And I was like, oh, I missed my opportunity. Not that security, I'm sure, would have let me walk over to him and start talking to him.

Barbara Krasner
Right.

Roberta Farber
But, it was really funny at the time. So, I had an opportunity, and I blew it!

Barbara Krasner
Do you know what the name was before Peres?

Roberta Farber
Zieff. That is when my grandfather he was from Lithuania because we're from the same place Shimon Peres was [Note: Vishnyeva, Belarus near the Lithuanian border] and that's why everybody was always curious whether there was a relation. And his brothers married women from England so when they left the country, instead of coming to the United States, they went to South Africa. So, that family, his brothers and all my cousins, went to South Africa, and they kept that name and one of them is a very famous musician. When I went to Israel, I met two of his daughters that are there, and then they came here right after my father died. They were all looking forward it, and my father died very unexpectedly. They were all supposed to meet. And my daughter went to South Africa in December, met the entire family when she was in South Africa so they're really very close relations. But, they're all that. And that was the original family name.

Barbara Krasner
So, it's likely that your maternal grandfather had some involvement with the silk industry when he was in Lodz, and that's why he ended up here.

Roberta Farber
No, he was more like- Well, it's possible, but he also was a radical. Was put in jail. He used to raise homing pigeons and sell the pigeons, and then they would fly home. And then, he would sell them again. I mean, we got all-

Barbara Krasner
So, he fit right into Paterson.

Roberta Farber
There you go! And then, he was in England for a while. And then, he finally got to the United States. And then little by little they brought over a lot of their family and they would help others come in, they would feed people, they would clothe people. Whoever came that needed, it was take care of everybody.

Barbara Krasner
So, what do you remember about your childhood here?

Roberta Farber
Oh, we had a great time! Grew up on East 27th Street. We played outside all the time. We had a great neighborhood. We came to the football field in the middle of the street because we used to play football all the time. And my mother lived in that house until January of this part year when we had to move her out. My aunt still lives across the street which is where my grandparents lived. So, it was just- Every Saturday night, my entire family- all my cousins, my aunts, my uncles- on that side we would have dinner with my grandparents. We had deli every Saturday night. So, there were thirteen grandchildren, and we all hung out together on Saturday.

Barbara Krasner
So, when you had deli, what would you eat?

Roberta Farber
Oh, tongue, corned beef, pastrami, you know, all the Jewish stuff. I'd go with my grandfather to the bagel shop downtown Paterson, Paterson Bagel [?]. They had the best bagels. And then, he used to- And I don't know why I always remember this. I went with him one day to a friend of his and it happened to be Federici and he would buy fish from him. And he had catfish that swam around. I guess it was so unusual that I remembered it. But, it was in the north side because I remember going up all these big hills. I must have been five/six years old. I was a little kid at the time. We used to watch fireworks from the 7th Avenue hill. And that was awesome.

Barbara Krasner
What synagogue did you belong to?

Roberta Farber
Temple Emanuel. Got married in Temple Emanuel. My mother got married in Temple Emanuel. My sister, one of my sisters, two of my sisters got married there. One is Orthodox she got married in an Orthodox shul.

Barbara Krasner
What do you remember about the Jewish holidays?

Roberta Farber
Food, lots of food. We'd go to temple. Family. We were always with family.

Barbara Krasner
And does any of the food stand out for you?

Roberta Farber
My grandmother used to make something called kleyskelach, which is like dough and turkey gravy.

Barbara Krasner
That sounds good!

Roberta Farber
It was always good. Still is good.

Barbara Krasner
What is it, kleyskelach?

Roberta Farber
Kleyskelach, it's like dumplings basically yeah.

Barbara Krasner
Okay

Roberta Farber
My grandmother used to bake a lot so she used to make these round cookies with one chocolate chip in the middle. Nobody could figure out the recipe. Kugels. My other grandmother used to bake huge cakes. She'd cut you a piece of cake.

Barbara Krasner
So, kugels. Potato, lokshen?

Roberta Farber
Well, lokshen, mostly lokshen. I would eat the lokshen [noodles], I wouldn't eat the potato kugels. Potato latkes, Hanukkah. We'd all be together. We'd each get, when we would had Hanukkah, it was thirteen grandchildren, and we each got a space. And everybody- We would get our presents, and everybody would be opening presents endlessly. Pretty chaotic, but it was a lot of fun. So one night, Hanukkah, we were all together. We all got our own thing. Seders, obviously. We were huge- Lots of people. Lots of family.

Barbara Krasner
And, did you shop locally?

Roberta Farber
We were just talking about that on Friday night. We used to get a lot of stuff delivered to the house. We had a milkman. We had an egg man. We had a bread man. My sister didn't remember, and I said, "Oh yes, we did." "No, we'd didn't." "Yes, we did." My mother said, "Yes, we did. We had a bread man." But the house had, you know, the milk box where you put the milk in. And then, she had a butcher that would deliver the meat. So, a lot of the stuff was delivered to the house, and then there was a fruit and vegetable truck that used to come around. And everybody would go outside, and we'd buy a lot of our fruits and vegetables right there from the vegetable man. And then, they used to have the rides. We used to- besides the ice cream trucks- there used to be rides that would come around. They would have the whip or a Ferris wheel for ten cents you could go on this mobile ride.

Barbara Krasner
Right. That's interesting. And did the butcher deliver on Thursday?

Roberta Farber
That I don't remember what date he used to-

Barbara Krasner
Probably, right before Shabbos (Shabbat).

Roberta Farber
-or Friday morning, one or the other. Yep.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, that's when my mother's butcher delivery came. So, you got involved with the town at thirteen when you were babysitting Pat and Mary Ellen's children.

Roberta Farber
Yes

Barbara Krasner
So, what about that experience attracted you to the city affairs?

Roberta Farber
I didn't have a choice. Mary Ellen would say to me, Berta, I need you and your friends to come here because I need you to do this or I need you to do that. So, it was just a natural kind of thing. She's the one that truly got me involved in everything. First Great Falls Festival. They needed volunteers. Berta, I need you and your friends to do that. We need to clean out the Rogers Building. We need you to come down and help clean out the Rogers Building. She had folks from Washington, who they were at the time it wasn't- I just remember they were from Washington. And it was after we cleaned out the Rogers Building because Falls View Hot Dogs [Falls View Grill at Spruce and Market] was still open across the street and for lunch we became the runners. And they served lunch in the Rogers Building, and we were going back and forth to the Falls View, bringing them hot dogs and beer. And that was all the folks from Washington's lunch, local flavor.

Barbara Krasner
Literally.

Roberta Farber
Literally, yep.

Barbara Krasner
And so, after you graduated college, what did you do? I'm sorry, graduated high school.

Roberta Farber
High school? I got married about a year later. I did. It was literally a year later, moved to Spokane, Washington, for two years while my ex was in law school up in Gonzaga. Came back and had my first baby. We bought a house in Paterson. And, Jimmy's parents also Paterson. His father was a physician at St. Joseph's Hospital. And just got re-involved in the neighborhood and all kinds of stuff. Got involved when we started the Eastside Neighborhood Association. This group of folks from Forty-First Street and me, I was one of the few outsiders that from off Forty-First Street that got involved. [?] too because they were on Forty-Second at the time. We were going to make a better neighborhood and keep the neighborhood viable for families to come in, raise their children, and try to keep up quality of life.

Barbara Krasner
So, what issues were you facing at that time?

Roberta Farber
Ah, Frank Graves.

Barbara Krasner
I'm sorry?

Roberta Farber
Frank Graves, he was the then mayor [Democrat, 1961-1966 and 1982-1990]. Housing issues. Folks turning housing into boarding houses. Bigger houses into apartments. Single-room occupancy. City wanted to have- I shouldn't say the city- there were developers, I guess, who had approached the city. They wanted to build high-rises on Durham Ave. That was Frank Graves. And those were some of the things that we said, "No, we want to keep this a single-family neighborhood." So, we would go down to the Board of Adjustment planning board, and we would fight all these things, everyone trying to come into the neighborhood to try to make changes, and we won, most of the time we won. The first time, we hired attorneys because we had done designer showcase house so luckily, we had money to be able to pay for lawyers. After that, unless it went to court, we no longer needed lawyers because the first set taught me enough that I could go and fight these things as the President- I was President then- of the neighborhood association.

Barbara Krasner
So, how many times did you go to court?

Roberta Farber
We never really- I don't think we ever- One time maybe. And it wound up the council not even in the court- And we won on that one also. That was, I think, [?] down on McLean Blvd, they wanted to put in garden apartments, and we said no, no, no, no. So, there was a compromise. They built just single-family houses there. So, those were some of the things that we fought. Fought with Barnert Hospital at one point when they had purchased- [Interruption: Yes? Put it, yeah, please, thank you].

Barbara Krasner
Barnert?

Roberta Farber
They had purchased the Barnert Temple. And they wanted to do all kinds of different things that the neighborhood really didn't want that kind of thing in the neighborhood, so we were trying to compromise and fight with them. And then, they said to me, "Well, we're going to have to sell it to a mosque," and we said, "Nothing we can do. You want to sell it to a mosque, sell it to a mosque." That's perfectly allowable use in our one sub. And that's eventually what happened which became the Passaic County mosque which is in the [?] part of town.

Barbara Krasner
So, what did you do after or for your job? Because this was a volunteer thing, right?

Roberta Farber
Oh, it was all volunteer, yeah, totally volunteer. For a job, I eventually went to work for the city. I started out as a neighborhood community kind of specialist type person, working in community development.

Barbara Krasner
And when was that about?

Roberta Farber
1985? 86? Bill Pascrell, the one that hired me, he was still the mayor at the time [Democrat, 1990-1996]. And little by little that was when the Urban Enterprise Zone started to become a thing for urban centers. And we fought and worked really hard to get it here for Paterson. And then, they made me the UEZD Director.

Barbara Krasner
Okay. And what difference did that make?

Roberta Farber
A huge difference. For me or for the city?

Barbara Krasner
Both.

Roberta Farber
For the city, it brought in additional funds for programs that the city couldn't afford to do on their own. For the businesses, it gave them an opportunity to save some money, lots of money, hire Paterson residents. So, it was a huge program. Governor Christie killed it. Should never have killed it for $95 million.

Barbara Krasner
It's gone?

Roberta Farber
The city is getting the funding back from the half-price sales tax. It's gone. Businesses still get the advantages of being a certified UEZD businesses. So, he cut the funding but not the benefit to the program to the businesses. But, we did our light poles, some of the projects that we did light poles on Main Street, walking policemen, matching sidewalk program, matching the side ramp program, $1 million for cleaning up where the Home Depot is now. That money went towards that.

Barbara Krasner
Okay.

Roberta Farber
I mean, we started small business development center here. That was one of my babies. Technology center with the community college. We started that.

Barbara Krasner
So, this is a lot of work.

Roberta Farber
It was a lot.

Barbara Krasner
Did you have a team working with you?

Roberta Farber
I had Marlene. At one point it was just me, literally it was me. And then, they decided, well, okay, Marty Barnes became mayor [Republican, 1997-2002]. He said, "Okay, you're going to be Assistant Director of Economic Development and the UEZD Director. And, no, I'm not giving you any more help because we're saving money, and we'll just make you work twice as hard." And he was a friend.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. How did you develop the vision for these improvements?

Roberta Farber
We did a five-year strategic plan which is actually sitting on my desk upstairs because I still use it to this day. And unfortunately, there are, the city after when Joey [Torres] became mayor, everything just died and fell apart. But, I had a plan of what was needed for the city. And that's how we did it. And I knew I was being successful when we looked at the tasks that we did and what we had accomplished, and it was the strategic plan, because we had reached a lot of goals that we had set out for.

Barbara Krasner
So, you were in that position for more than a decade?

Roberta Farber
Oh yeah.

Barbara Krasner
So, when did you leave that?

Roberta Farber
I was fired by Joey Torres on the day he took office in 2002. I had a major lawsuit against the city because I was truly illegally fired.

Barbara Krasner
And what happened to that lawsuit?

Roberta Farber
It eventually settled and that’s all I'm legally allowed to say.

Barbara Krasner
No, that's fine. Settled out of court.

Roberta Farber
Well, or settled in court.

Barbara Krasner
Wow.

Roberta Farber
That's how I wound up in Jersey City because the Jersey City UEZD Director became Director of the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation. He had heard that I wasn't working and called me and said, "Stop organizing your sock drawer. You're coming to Jersey City."

Barbara Krasner
So, you were recruited.

Roberta Farber
Yep.

Barbara Krasner
And what differences did you see between Paterson and Jersey City?

Roberta Farber
Oh, huge!

Barbara Krasner
I'm from Hudson County myself.

Roberta Farber
Ah! Okay.

Barbara Krasner
Not from Jersey City though.

Roberta Farber
Jersey City, well, obviously it's much bigger. You got fifteen square miles in Jersey City. You got 8.3 square miles in Paterson. So, the size of the cities was, and at the time when I got there, it was like oh my God, how am I ever going to find my way around? And Bob Cotter, who was the Planning Director, I said to him, "How am I ever going to find-?" He said, "Go buy a Hagstrom map." He said, "Go buy a map." And then, he explained which was good. He really gave me a lesson on how Jersey City is set up. Historically, it was four villages. And the four villages merged together to make Jersey City.

Barbara Krasner
I didn't know that.

Roberta Farber
So, that is why when I was getting lost, trying to find places, it's because streets would end because that was from a different village. And that is why Jersey City literally has four different downtown type areas. He said, "You're used to Paterson which is circular, one downtown. But, we have four," which really after he explained it, it made my life so much easier because then I could truly figure out where I was going, what I was doing. And most people by the time I was there two years, they all thought I lived in Jersey City because you just in the job as [?] you get to know the people. You have to. You learn the residents. You learn the businesses. You learn the areas, the history, everything.

Barbara Krasner
Was there any backlash that you weren't, you know, living in Jersey City?

Roberta Farber
No, surprisingly not, there was not. For a while, I had thought about picking up and moving down there, and then I couldn't afford it.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, exactly.

Roberta Farber
But, I could not afford to do it. So, I did the commute [?] between here and Jersey City which is not a lot of fun. But, it's what we did.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. And how long were you in that job?

Roberta Farber
Eleven years until the new mayor came along. And they made some changes. There were three of us, well, they pretty much gutted the Economic Development Corporation. There was one person left there.

Barbara Krasner
So, a new mayor in Paterson?

Roberta Farber
No, a new mayor in Jersey City.

Barbara Krasner
Oh, new mayor in Jersey City. Okay.

Roberta Farber
Steven Fulop. Because I worked for Cunningham, and then I worked for Fulop. Both really.

Barbara Krasner
Okay, so you're out of a job again.

Roberta Farber
Out of a job again, yeah.

Barbara Krasner
And so how did you end up back here?

Roberta Farber
Lana Stokes, who is the Director here now, at the time had just been made Director. They had fired the then current Director here. And she said to me, "You're out of work. You're going to go crazy. Come work for me part-time. I need that. I really need the help." So, I said, "Okay." So, I started working part-time, doing some stuff here.

Barbara Krasner
So, Lana is the Director of—?

Roberta Farber
Paterson Task Force.

Barbara Krasner
Okay.

Roberta Farber
And then, one day said to her, "I can't work part-time." I was working full-time anyway.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Roberta Farber
So, they brought me on full-time so I've been here now four years.

Barbara Krasner
And so, did you see any changes in the city between the time you left and came back?

Roberta Farber
Well, I never really left.

Barbara Krasner
Well, I mean job-wise.

Roberta Farber
Well, it's not- It's different because this is a non-profit. It's not working for city government.

Barbara Krasner
Right. Right.

Roberta Farber
So, it is entirely a different experience completely. Nothing is getting done in the city. Hopefully, new mayor, we'll start to see some changes. There's always hope. But, run it into the ground.

Barbara Krasner
So, is your job mostly about fundraising and programs?

Roberta Farber
Yes.

Barbara Krasner
And how is that looking for you? I mean, is it a constant struggle?

Roberta Farber
Yes. It is. It ain't easy.

Barbara Krasner
How do you feel, though, about the work that the Task Force is able to accomplish versus when you were in official city government?

Roberta Farber
Two totally different animals. When I worked in government, I really felt I got a lot, a lot done for the city, whether it was brick-and-mortar or whether it was helping people. Here, it's helping people. It's not brick-and-mortar, and we do help a lot of people do a lot of different good things. We work a lot with Kintock community service group. We work with a lot of re-entry folks. And we have gotten them really great jobs. They're still in those jobs. They come back. They visit us. They tell us what's going on. I mean, it's just amazing sometimes the lives that you touch-

Barbara Krasner
Yeah

Roberta Farber
-in a community service kind of thing. Government, just different. Paterson has always been a passion for me. I see things different than most people.

Barbara Krasner
And what does that mean?

Roberta Farber
I look at the city with rose-colored glasses.

Barbara Krasner
Oh. So, looking at your job with the Task Force, what is your greatest challenge and what has been-

Roberta Farber
Money, money, and more money.

Barbara Krasner
What has been your greatest satisfaction so far?

Roberta Farber
Working with some of the women from the shelters. We do programs that we brought in to help them. Working with the guys from Kintock.

Barbara Krasner
And what does that stand for again?

Roberta Farber
Kintock is the re-entry program. it's the halfway house. Obviously, you've noticed we have a lot of furniture and things here. We do pick-ups of goods and a lot of it is furniture. And most of it is donated to women that are coming out of the shelter who have nothing. So, we're able to set them up with furniture, housewares, clothes— whatever they need to get a start, that's one of the things that we do. And, Board of Social Services, anybody from a non-profit, fire victims, that is one of the things that we do. And that's been hugely successful if that's possible.

Barbara Krasner
Looking back at when you were heading up the UEZ and simultaneously Assistant Director of Economic Development, what was your greatest challenge then and what was your greatest satisfaction?

Roberta Farber
Greatest challenge at the time was the city council because they didn't like the mayor and gave us a hard time with anything that we were trying to do good for the city.

Barbara Krasner
So, basically you were viewed as a messenger of the mayor?

Roberta Farber
Yeah. So that just made things—

Barbara Krasner
Yeah

Roberta Farber
—very difficult to get things done. Everything that could have gotten done quickly took forever.

Barbara Krasner
And satisfaction?

Roberta Farber
I guess, biggest sat- Small business development center.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, you said that was your baby.

Roberta Farber
That was my baby.

Barbara Krasner
Was there anything- ?

Roberta Farber
And national park.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. Yeah.

Roberta Farber
Which people don't realize what we had to do with that becoming a reality.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, I did interview Pat a couple years ago. So, looking at the Jersey City job, was there anything in that job that helped you with the work you do now?

Roberta Farber
Yes, a lot, a lot, a lot. Working with the different types of businesses on the waterfront. I was working with helping move in companies like AIG, SG America, Societe General, working with the new restaurants that were coming into town. So, it was on a different scale of development and Fortune 500 companies-

Barbara Krasner
Yeah

Roberta Farber
-versus dealing with small mom and pop's. But, at the same time I was working in the other side of the Tale of Two Cities, Martin Luther King Drive, which was the old Jackson Ave, and very closely with the special improvement districts that got started and eventually became the Main Street and did a lot of work down in that area of town. So, I really was- It was truly a tale of two cities, working with the bigger companies moving out to the waterfront but then the money that we made from Jersey City was getting spent in the areas that most needed the help.

Barbara Krasner
Was it difficult to work for a city you didn't grow up in?

Roberta Farber
No. The people in Jersey City are just terrific. They are welcoming and friendly and no one saw me as this outsider coming into their town. They helped me. They had me learn the city. They helped me learn the city. They got me involved in stuff all over the place. And so, I just became a fixture in Jersey City. If you need something, call Berta. Berta, do this. Berta, do that. So, I just got immersed. You really need to immerse yourself with the community when you're in a job like that because it's the people that you need to motivate to understand what their city is all about. And the council in Jersey City was like a whole- It was night and day when I would go to the council. In Jersey City, they would ask me questions and legitimate questions or whatever, and they were great. One of them thought them thought they were giving me a hard time, and I said, "Have you ever watched a Paterson council meeting?" And he said, "No, I never have." I said, "You watch the city of Paterson council meeting." I said, "Then, you decide whether you're really giving me a hard time." Jersey City they were not personal. It was all professional.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
Here, it was personal on top, and that's what made it so it was really and you know, people say, "Well, that's [?] like no, it's not like that everywhere. And I very often say to folks in Jersey City, we did it this way, this way, and this way, and that's what made the difference. They just, well, obviously got my name from Melissa when [?] Paterson and somebody said something about Jersey City, and I said, well, sorry but I got to correct you because that's- And people, a lot of folks here don't know that I was there for eleven years so they don't understand that I know Jersey-

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. Yeah.

Roberta Farber
-city.

Barbara Krasner
So, do you think- sort of metaphysically- that you were meant to go work in Jersey City-

Roberta Farber
Yes.

Barbara Krasner
-so you could bring that back?

Roberta Farber
Yes.

Barbara Krasner
That's what it feels like.

Roberta Farber
Yeah. Took me a while to realize that. But, yes, I really do.

Barbara Krasner
I got chills when I say that actually but-

Roberta Farber
But, yes because I needed to see something different.

Barbara Krasner
And it's a worthwhile experience to bring back, right, if it's all within the same fish bowl.

Roberta Farber
Yes.

Barbara Krasner
It inhibits more ideas.

Roberta Farber
In Jersey City, yes, you know, they look at Jersey City is location, location, location. But, it's also the vision in terms of the city. And everybody gives all these different, but what I was taught and it's true about Bob Cotter, who was amazing. The City Planner there was just phenomenal. Jerry McCann was the one who saw the vision on the waterfront. So, it goes back lots and lots of years when they developed Newport with the LeFrak [Associates]. So, that's really what's the start of what then became Jersey City.

Barbara Krasner
The new Jersey City

Roberta Farber
New Jersey City. And I had met folks who were kind of claiming they used to work at the Liberty Science Center, it was one of the first pioneers had bought a brownstone for like $25,000 downtown. She said, but it was like taking your life in your hands. You were walking with rabid dogs. You were-

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Roberta Farber
But now, she can-

Barbara Krasner
It's like Red HOok in Brooklyn. Yeah

Roberta Farber
And but, you know, now she can sell her house for millions of dollars so it was truly- It's awe-inspiring to see what has happened. So, can it happen here? Yes.

Barbara Krasner
Jersey City had the best kosher restaurant.

Roberta Farber
Green-

Barbara Krasner
Greenspans.

Roberta Farber
I was there when I was a little kid.

Barbara Krasner
I love Greenspans!

Roberta Farber
Yes! So, I remember Greenspans.

Barbara Krasner
I used to go there a lot on Sunday nights, and my mother would order in Yiddish.

Roberta Farber
Ah, okay.

Barbara Krasner
Because I don't think you could get lungen stew everywhere.

Roberta Farber
[?]

Barbara Krasner
Lungs.
Roberta Farber
[?]

Barbara Krasner
And then, when you ordered kishka, you could have the real-

Roberta Farber
real kishka

Barbara Krasner
And even after my mother told me what it really was-

Roberta Farber
Didn't matter

Barbara Krasner
-I didn't care.

Roberta Farber
Didn't matter.

Barbara Krasner
I could chew on that for hours. Yeah. That's long gone, oh and the sloppy joes, my family would order for New Year's Eve. And my father would- I'm from Kearny-

Roberta Farber
Okay

Barbara Krasner
-and my father would go and pick up the trays, nothing like it.

Roberta Farber
Yep. Kearny’s gone through a lot of changes too. They were also [?] by zone [reference to UEZ].

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. Yes.

Roberta Farber
And I had callings with Pat. We had done some work down there.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah I was the Kearny town historian, wrote four books about Kearny.

Roberta Farber
Okay.

Barbara Krasner
And the town just celebrated its 150th anniversary, last year? Yeah, last year. So, unfortunately, it couldn't have the same kind of celebration it had in 1967 because the schools weren't participating. They were more interested in testing. And I said, I remember the town historian coming into my grammar school classroom and telling us about the history of the town and how exciting that was. And we're not allowed to do that.

Roberta Farber
It just-

Barbara Krasner
So, I kind of dropped out because it's like, well, I can't do anything! So, that's that. But, yeah, the town changed a lot demographically, for sure. Yeah, and a friend told me, when I was thinking of moving- I live near New Brunswick-

Roberta Farber
Okay

Barbara Krasner
-a friend told me, "You don't want to move back to Kearny." Because, you know, the proximity to New York is good, but yeah, I had to let go of that, which is fine. So, you're still here. Did you ever think about moving anywhere else? I mean, I know you went to Spokane.

Roberta Farber
Yeah, but that was just for law school.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
Not really. Every once in a while, I'll think about it. My mother- One of the reasons is to, obviously, my mother needs us. And I was the closest one because she was still in her house. She's now in Teaneck. So, it's still easy. And one of my sisters in is Hackensack. So, it's that. And two of my kids are in Florida so if and when I am able to move, it won't be for hopefully a long time while she's alive [?]-

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. Yeah. No. Yeah.

Roberta Farber
-I'd move to Florida probably to be near my five grandkids. So, by the time I get there, they'll be going off to college. Because the oldest is thirteen so it's not that [?].

Barbara Krasner
So, what stories do you think your mother would tell?

Roberta Farber
Well, it's the stories she does tell. The stories about the Depression, going to having one of the last nickels in the house, going to the store and buying sugar for my grandmother, not really realizing- you know, the sad stories- not realizing there was a hole in the bag. I remember she was walking home and all the sugar was falling out of the bag. Eating the pickles that were made in the downstairs basement by one of the neighbors, and they thought they had mice because all the neighborhood kids would go down- they wouldn't eat a whole pickle- because they were-

Barbara Krasner
But, they're big. But-

Roberta Farber
They were afraid that they would realize that they were eating them so they would take bites out of lots of different pickles and put them back in. She was just talking about the ice man coming, and they would eat the chips off the ice in the hot summertime. The ice man in the winter only came once a week but in the summer came three or four times a week. My aunt walking home from Eastside High School and seeing- and it was [?] at the time- [?]

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, I'm not sure that will pick up the recording.

Roberta Farber
So, she passed these people on the street. How my ex's grandfather was such a good man, he made a part of a loom that no one else made, and everybody who had a silk shop needed this to be able to manufacture. During the Depression, nobody could afford it. He would give it to them to them on credit.

Barbara Krasner
Oh yeah.

Roberta Farber
And so, my mother- because obviously my father- my grandfather and my ex's grandfather, they knew each other from back, you know, they started telling stories, so everybody knew each other. We just didn't know we knew each other back then.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
So, those are some of the stories that they would have, that she would have told.

Barbara Krasner
Did she ever talk about World War II and-?

Roberta Farber
The only- They didn't- She was very active in Hadassah, Junior Hadassah [a Jewish women’s organization]. She's been talking about that a lot, especially since it's the seventieth anniversary, and all the things that they did to send telegrams on the phone all the time, getting people to call for Congress to send wires, you know, we'll address it for you. So, she talks about that a lot right now. That's one of the main things she talks about. How she, because of her involvement in Jewish [?], helped make Israel a free country. Talks about that.

Barbara Krasner
She was a teenager then, right?

Roberta Farber
Mm hmm. Yep. Which also graduated Eastside High School. She talks about how they used to have to share dresses. There was no money to buy-

Barbara Krasner
Wow.

Roberta Farber
-new clothes.

Barbara Krasner
And that's when they had split sessions, right?

Roberta Farber
That's when my sister was there, they had split sessions. So, I don't know. I don't know if my mother was there on split sessions. That I don't remember her talking about. She was like the first- one of the first graduating classes-

Barbara Krasner
Oh

Roberta Farber
-out of the new Eastside. She was born in 1923.

Barbara Krasner
And what's her name?

Roberta Farber
Thelma Peres

Barbara Krasner
Thelma?

Roberta Farber
Thelma T-H-E-L-M-A P-E-R-E-S

Barbara Krasner
Does she ever talk about scrap metal drives?

Roberta Farber
No. No, she does not. She talks about the fact that my grandfather could have invested in ADP and didn't. That she talks about because they had approached my grandfather to invest in ADP, and he didn't think it would become anything. So-

Barbara Krasner
So, was his business a successful one?

Roberta Farber
It was small. I don't know what year he gave that up. He would go to Scranton a lot. I remember him going to Scranton. And I think he bought property in Scranton. But, Scranton was also another mill town.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
So, it was- That I remember. Yeah, certain things she just didn't pay attention to.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah. So, what would you want anyone to take away from your background in Paterson? And you mentioned your passion for the town, for the city.

Roberta Farber
See if I can think of anything.

Barbara Krasner
Okay.

Roberta Farber
I really don't. I know what I did. People- And there's a lot of folks who just have no idea the impact that of what we did when we did it and how it made for change in this city. I talked about the national park, and it was very small. Someone had been coming from National Park to visit, and they were talking to me. And they said, "Well, when Mary Ellen passed, she put the district on my shoulders," in her hospital bed she said, "Berta, I leave you the district." I'm like, oh gee, thank you, you know. Isn't that nice? And, when Marty became mayor, one of the things we talked about was what we were going to do with the district and how we were going to make it a park. And she kept telling me, she kept pushing me, this woman from the National Park Service. You can do it. You just- You need to do it. She said, "If they can make an air force- whatever it was- down in like Tennessee or whatever a national park, you can do it." So, we called a meeting of the mayor and Pascrell was there, and Lautenberg was there, and all these people. And we started, once again, reviving the possibility. And we did it down at the museum of creating a national park for Paterson. And I'll never forget, Nada Leven (sp?) came over to me when we were there, "I can't believe. It's not going to happen. It's never going to happen. You're not going to be able to do this. It's just never going to happen." Okay. But, we kept pushing and then he got people higher up more involved and sure enough! And the day they did the ceremony for the park, the announcement for the park, Frank Blesso- I don't know if you've talked to Frank-

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, I think I have.

Roberta Farber
Who was Re-development Director at the time. Always involved in the district. [?] And he said, "I want you to know," he said, "Nobody-" he says, "but you know I know." He said, "Everybody kept telling you it couldn't be done, and you kept telling us it can be done. Well, you did it." He said, "Nobody else-" he says, "But we know how it got done." He said, "So, thank you."

Barbara Krasner
That must have made you feel really good.

Roberta Farber
It did. It did.

Barbara Krasner
I can't imagine that he would just congratulate anybody.

Roberta Farber
It was just-

Barbara Krasner
That was a very nice thing for him to do.

Roberta Farber
Because everything just happens. That's [?]. They don't realize the work that gets put in from the start-off as a little piece of sand. And all those pieces of sand need to come together to make the beach. And how do you make that happen?

Barbara Krasner
So, what drove you, though, to do that?

Roberta Farber
Because I knew it had to happen. It was something I had always seen. When I was President of the Neighborhood Association all those moons ago, the newspaper had asked me to do a guest editorial because they were doing a series, guest editorials. And I sat- I was still married at the time, and my ex- He was a lawyer. And we were sitting/talking, figuring out how I was, what I was going to write about. And we decided, he said, "Well, you start. You write." He said, "I'll go through it. We'll edit. We'll do whatever." And it was really written about the mayor of Paterson, who was a woman the time, and it was twenty years into the future or more. And how there was a hotel at the Falls, what brought the Falls back, what was happening there now. And it was all these dignitaries that were there for this huge celebration of the city of Paterson. And we were going to- I mean, it just- It's around somewhere. But-

Barbara Krasner
That's cool.

Roberta Farber
So, it was written-

Barbara Krasner
Right.

Roberta Farber
-fifty years into the future as to what the district and Pater- It all starts there.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
So, that's-

Barbara Krasner
So, you're a visionary.

Roberta Farber
Yeah.

Barbara Krasner
I like that. Well, good. I think we're done.

Roberta Farber
Okay. I didn't tell you about Mary Ellen and her dirt. Did you get all those stories?

Barbara Krasner
I don't remember what Pat told me because it was a couple of years ago.

Roberta Farber
To stop the highway coming through the historic district?

Barbara Krasner
So, tell me.

Roberta Farber
We used to sit and we filled up little boxes of dirt, like jewelry box sizes of dirt which were all sent down to the state. It was one of her ways of getting them to stop the highway from coming through and knocking down buildings in the historic district. Literally we would sit and fill up little boxes of dirt.

Barbara Krasner
How many?

Roberta Farber
Thousands! Thousands.

Barbara Krasner
And what happened as a result?

Roberta Farber
They didn't put the highway.

Barbara Krasner
So, it was effective.

Roberta Farber
So, that's why the district is [?].

Barbara Krasner
That's very cool. Yeah.

Roberta Farber
She was a cool lady.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
She was my mentor.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah.

Roberta Farber
She really was.

Barbara Krasner
Yeah, I certainly get that impression. Good. Thank you.

Roberta Farber
Thank you!

Barbara Krasner
So, I'll close this out.

Last updated: June 10, 2019

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Paterson, NJ 07501

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