November 7, 2008

Jewish Women Have ‘Down-Home Charm’

Your October 24 news article “Sarah Palin Hits a Nerve Among Jewish Women, But It’s a Raw One” argues that the “down-home charm that Palin projects in lieu of a focus on nuance or detail is particularly off-putting for many Jewish women, who are likely to be highly educated, urban, and upper-middle class.”

I take offense at the implication that Jewish women are everything but women with down-home charm. After all, what defines a Jewish woman but her incredibly powerful role in building a Jewish home?

Newark Jewry’s Death Is Greatly Exaggerated

You seem to have tried to write an obituary for Newark’s Jewish community. Your October 17 article’s headline, “For One Day, Newark’s Jews Return To Mourn,” appropriately enough, confirms that image.

Perhaps the individuals quoted in the article, who lived in Newark 40 years ago, have had so little experience with the current Jewish community there that they feel secure only with a police guard. But my wife, who was born and grew up in Newark, and I have strong ties to the community and can attest to the vigor and energy it exhibits.

The article devoted exactly one sentence to the core of this community, Congregation Ahavas Sholom. What it failed to note is the growing membership and the vigorous program of this astounding testament to the Newark Jewish community. Recently, a new playground was opened in Newark’s impoverished Central Ward, due in no small part to the energies of the community’s president, Eric Freedman, who raised a considerable sum in grants to make the project possible. The congregation is now working on a second playground project for another section of the city.

The congregation attracted scores of worshippers recently to honor one of its stalwarts, Ceil Arons, on her 98th birthday. She still works for the congregation in setting up Shabbat Kiddush as often as possible. What was most remarkable about her birthday celebration was the way it highlighted the synagogue’s diversity. Among those honoring her were African Americans and Hispanics, little children, young adults and seniors, accurately reflecting the makeup of the community. There was a genuine feeling of camaraderie among the diverse members of the congregation.

Let me suggest that your readers make contact with a congregation that should make all New Jersey Jews proud of their efforts to revivify what is anything but a moribund community.

My family visits Newark’s Grove Street Cemetery every year. We drive down from near Danbury, Conn., and we meet cousins from Montclair, N.J. We have been going to Grove Street for nine years, ever since my father passed away.

After he died, I received a bill for the upkeep of my brothers’ graves. I never met my brothers, who died the same week at ages 7 and 5 during the polio epidemic in 1945. I found out that my dad visited the graves almost every week, despite the danger. Eventually, I found my grandfather, who died during the influenza epidemic in 1919. A few years ago, we found my other grandfather, another relative whom I never met. And this year we fanned out and my 16-year-old daughter found my grandmother, who died in 1926. None of these people were listed in the database that was created, so we just had to search for one day every year.

For those who are interested, Alice Perkins Gould, who has been instrumental in focusing attention on the Grove Street cemetery, wrote a book called “The Old Jewish Cemeteries of Newark” (Avotaynu, 2005). It is a fascinating look at the history of the Jewish community of Newark.

I have to say that my cousin and her daughter, who is also a teenager, and my daughter, husband and I look forward to going to the cemetery every year. We love visiting the graves of our family. It is so meaningful to all of us, and it gives our children an education in family, history and Yiddishkeit.

I was much moved by this well-written and most sad story.

Your article brought back to me with force those members of my own family who passed on so many years ago, including my father whom I lost 61 years ago at the age of 9.

How terrible that these loyal family members in your story need police protection simply to visit and honor their own lost kin. How wonderful it is that they do come to be with them.

The article served to remind me that I have not visited my own parents’ graves for at least three years, and I now feel shamed.

Thank you.

It’s Not a ‘Phobia’ When The Fear Is Rational

We see the Organization of the Islamic Conference complaining that much criticism of the Muslim world can be called “Islamophobia” (“U.S. Mounting Effort To Counter Limits on Speech Critical of Islam,” October 10).

According to the dictionary, a “phobia” is a psychological disorder consisting of exaggerated irrational fear — the operative word being “irrational.” In a world of terrorist bombings, and with the rantings of highly irrational tyrants and true believers, it seems to this reader that my anxiety is well-founded on facts.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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November 7, 2008

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