Exploring the Morristown yeshiva

As a teenager, I spent a couple of years at the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey. I have cherished memories of this place. From today’s perspective, the world seemed so young back in the 70s. So uncomplicated. But to my young eyes, many things seemed old and mysterious. I’ve always had some wannabe Indiana Jones in me. The exploration of old places, which have not been disturbed for a long time, holds a fascination with me.
These days, both main buildings of these Lubavitcher yeshivas (there are 2 in the same complex) are spruced up and nice. But back then, the building to the left in this photo was derelict. Few people (save a maintenance man or two) ventured there regularly and, for my young imagination, it was like my own private Pompeii. It had been said that the complex, including some forested land around these buildings, had been purchased from a group of nuns. This must have been around 1955.
morristown yeshiva
Hiking around the 82 acres surrounding the complex, I would find stones arranged in odd patterns. I got the impression that rather than nuns, the place had been inhabited by satanists. The high smoke stack, visible in the photo above just above center, was difficult to gain access too. I had to climb through a small opening near the floor, perhaps two of them, to get inside of it. Once inside, by the dim light of the opening high above, I could see a thick layer of dust covering everything. The thick brick walls formed four small shelves opposite each other. On each shelve was a candle, half consumed and left there for who knows how long. I imagined this must have been the site of a strange ceremony.
Under the building was at least one very long tunnel. Periodically, students would gather at its end and have drunken parties late at night. Bats made their home there.
The building had various hidden chambers. One of them held a series of brick ovens built into the walls, about three high and four across if memory serves me right. They were just the right size for people to fit into, and they made me think of the crematoriums at concentration camps. Inside one of them was the skeletal remains of a cat. Were they for baking bread? They seemed too large for that. Most likely they were wood stoves, or maybe they were used to burn garbage.
I have other fond memories of Morristown. Memories of the people and the friendships I had. Memories of the rabbis who, though Lubavitchers themselves, were open-minded enough to accept that my path wasn’t with Lubavitch.
A couple of nights ago I had a dream about this place. Details of the dream have become intertwined with my original recollections and this troubles me. It’s hard to know if some particulars are memories of my experiences or memories of the dream. In any event, please feel free to share your own youthful (or not-so-youthful) exploratory adventures with the rest of us.

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6 Responses to Exploring the Morristown yeshiva

  1. countenance says:

    I’ve used Google Earth to look at the geography of my life’s history quite a bit. When I look at the place where I was at summer camp a couple of summers, Google Earth can get me close enough to detail to where I can retrace the path I took on a whim without telling anyone and being gone for half the day, scaring the adults and counselors half to death.

  2. JI says:

    Thanks for sharing this. That must have been a wonderful place to live.
    I too love exploring old places. My grandmother lived in a house that had been built in the early 1730’s in New England. While exploring the attic as a child, I came across a small hidden space in the floor near one of the chimneys. When I asked Grandma about it, she said it had been used to hide slaves who had escaped from the southern states and were fleeing to Canada.

  3. When I was a child we lived at the edge of an expansive forest; about a mile in my sister and I discovered shards of old china under the leaves and when we dug around we found even more. There were hundreds of pieces of plates, teacups, bowls, all of it very beautiful and ornately painted. I’ve often wondered what was there, and what happened for them to abandon their china. There were no visible structures or remains of structures anywhere near. About five miles in was a stone outcropping where neatly chiseled names and dates from the 1700 and 1800s were engraved. No explanation for the names or why they’d been chiseled.
    I wonder what those nuns were up to in that facility? Had it been a convent?

  4. Pingback: Our rigid concept of time | Jewamongyou's Blog

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