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.
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.