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Message from Judith Schwartz about her latest book,
"The Reindeer Chronicles and Other Inspiring Stories of Working With Nature to Heal the Earth"
We know our natural world is under tremendous stress, the zoonotic COVID-19 pandemic being but one manifestation of this. Now, suppose it is possible to heal the earth: to apply Tikkun Olam--repairing the world’s brokenness--in a literal way. What would that look like? What ecological forces would we seek to activate? What human knowledge and creativity would be unleashed? This is the question that guided me as I researched and wrote “The Reindeer Chronicles and Other Inspiring Stories of Working With Nature to Heal the Earth”. The book is a global tour of earth repair, with stops in China, the Middle East, Spain, Hawaii, Norway, New Mexico, and the grasslands of Eastern Washington: a variety of geographical and social landscapes. On August 10 at 4PM, the week the book is released, I’ll be doing a Zoom discussion with the broader CBE community. I look forward to the chance to chat with you all about global ecological restoration and all its implications, and welcome any insights related to Jewish wisdom.
The book can be pre-ordered through my publisher https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/the-reindeer-chronicles/ or the Bennington Bookshop (802) 442-5059. Also: I have copies of my previous books, “Cows Save the Planet” and “Water In Plain Sight”, on hand that I will sell through the office for $15 with $5 from each going to the synagogue. Let Susan know which book and how you would like it signed (i.e., to you, or as a gift) and arrange a pick-up.
Beth El Community Profiles
Growing up Jewish in New Jersey
by Miriam Goodman Silver
I always knew I was Jewish. I cannot remember not knowing. I just was. It was not a case of me being proud. I did not go around saying I am proud to be a Jew. I just was, just like I was a girl. I never thought about being anything else. My grandparents were Jewish, my parents were Jewish and all my aunts and uncles and cousins were Jewish. I was not ashamed either. I never hid the fact that we were Jewish. But, sometimes I was uncomfortable being Jewish. Most of the kids on my block, or in my school, or in the town of Highland Park, New Jersey where I grew up, were NOT Jewish, and I was always conscious of these differences between me and most of the other children.
First of all, I did not go to school on Yom Tov, no matter what the Jewish holiday was. Mostly we joined my grandparents who lived in another town about 18 miles away that also did not have a Jewish population. We all went to services on the High Holy Days, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuous. My grandfather built the synagogue in his town and he was its first president. On Friday nights, we all gathered at his house where Bubba had baked little Challahs for the grandchildren and made tzimmis, kugel, chicken, chicken soup and compote for the Sabbath meal for all the adult children and their families. Even on minor Jewish holidays, I still stayed home or went to our local little Conservative temple.
Another difference was that I also went to Jewish school run by the Workman’s Circle or
Arbeiter Ring on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after public school. My parents sent me to learn to speak and read and write Yiddish. They wanted me to learn to be literate in Yiddish so that I could communicate with my grandparents.
I had to walk at least five miles across the bridge over the Raritan River to the town of New Brunswick to get there. This was a special place that taught children about the Yiddish language and culture. It introduced us to Yiddish songs, poetry and literature, as well as their writers. Everything was taught in Yiddish. I had the most wonderful teachers and I loved the way they taught. They were my role models, the only Jewish teachers I knew. But, I trace my love of teaching to my Jewish school teachers, and knew that I wanted to become a teacher because of the impact they had on me.
I started Jewish School at age five and continued until I graduated from Mitl Schule, comparable to Jewish High school. My Zaida always asked me to read Das Bintl Brief from the Yiddish newspaper so he could show me off when I visited him and his cronies in Atlantic City, where he vacationed. I was also the only grandchild who could speak Yiddish fluently, so I could converse with my grandmothers on both sides who never learned to speak English.
Going to Jewish School after school three times a week certainly set me apart from the other kids in school. I could not join the Brownies or the Girl Scouts, or even socialize with friends that much since I was always going off to another school. And so the Americanization process for me was delayed. By that I mean, all the social graces and skills my gentile counterparts picked up at these groups or in their socializing – like making canapés, making small talk, learning how to dress or walk or talk with soft voices and without flailing hands; when to say thank you or no thank you; how to depart from a party, how to be gracious and courteous; how to take a compliment and how to give one in return. All these social skills eluded me and some still do.
Playing in the neighborhood with my gentile friends also made me aware that I was different. They never invited me to stay over in their houses nor did I invite them to mine. Many of the kids with whom I went to school had parents who were on the faculty of Rutgers University or New Jersey College for
Women across the river from Highland Park. Their parents were Americans who were educated, except for Mr. Orzini, the barber, who was my neighbor.
My parents were immigrants, both coming from Russia, but only my dad was educated. He went to gymnasium (equal to two years of college) in Kishenev. When he arrived here at age 21, he enrolled in night school. He was literate in Russian, Rumanian, Yiddish and English. He worked in my grandfather’s factory in South River, NJ, where 100 women sat at sewing machines making women’s blouses. He was the foreman during my early growing up years, but he eventually bought the factory from my grandfather. It was then that he became the boss and I the boss’s daughter.
My mom was a functional illiterate. That is, she could barely read in any language, she spelled phonetically and spoke with a Yiddish accent. My grandfather had sent for his family after being in this country for seven years working to amass a fortune. He bought several factories and hired hundreds of Polish and Russian immigrants to work for him in the small town of South River. He
bought the mayor’s house and sent for his wife and six children, my mother being the middle child. They traveled upper class and he met them in New York with a chauffeur driven Studebaker.
Mom was 16 when she arrived, a zesty, beautiful young woman who never shied away from entering the world of America and she just loved life. She had a beautiful voice and always had a song on her lips and a smile on her face. She was a great baker and sang while she rolled out the dough for strudel or knishes. The dough has to be so thin that you could see through it. As she tossed the dough up in the air, I remember her saying, “It has to be as thin as ‘tzigair papeer’ (cigar paper). I loved watching her work with her rolling pin or meat grinder. But she never let me help.”Just go away and play,” she said, so I did. I never learned to cook or bake. She was in total control of the kitchen.
When she died at the age of 70, the rabbi, in delivering the eulogy, mainly cited how delicious Mamma’s strudel and knishes were and how generous she was in sharing them with the community. At the time I was dismayed to think that that was my mother’s chief legacy…and in my arrogance, I vowed that it would never be mine for sure! But today, with a bit more acquired wisdom, as I lovingly bake her” lokshen krugel,” I realize that was a symbol of her generosity, her caring for others and the gift of herself that she gave to all she loved.
Our foods were different from the other kids in school. They ate white bread with peanut butter and jelly. Mom would give me challah with cream cheese or sometimes even halvah. We ate sour cream and bananas, pot cheese and when we were lucky, we had lox.
I even looked and dressed differently. My mom made all my clothes from left over material from my dad’s factory. There was always a Singer sewing machine in our house just like the ones in my Dad’s factory. She was always pinning patterns on the table- fitting me with half sewn garments and making me chew thread while she sewed on the collars of the dress she was finishing for me. They always seemed to be sewn on crooked. I hated my home grown dresses. They were usually rayon prints and ugly colors. I yearned for the beige cashmere cardigan sets my schoolmates wore with a little string of pearls. They wore cotton dirndl skirts or broomstick skirts that you would wash and wrap on brooms to dry.
My hair was different from my classmates. It was long and never cut. Mom braided my hair each morning and threaded the braids with binding we had on spools from the factory. She then tied the ends of the binding in a bow or knot. By four o’clock each day, the braids invariably escaped from the “ribbons” and my hair was dangling at the ends looking quite scraggly. When my dad would pick me up at six o’clock, after Jewish School on his way home from work, he often commented that I looked like “machshiafa,” Yiddish for gypsy. I longed for short straight hair with bangs and barrettes like the other girls in school. Finally, when I was 12, I summed up the courage to make an appointment with my neighbor, a barber, who gave me a “feather cut.” My dad did not talk to me for a week!
Another time of anxiety came during the month of December. Chanukah in our house was the ritual that never wavered. Our dad gave us each a silver dollar the first night of Chanukah after we lit the candles – and that was that. Period. Later it was a gold five dollar piece when times were better, but further on in the month when Christmas was over, my friends’ parents would ask me if Santa had been good to me. I never had the poise to let them know how inappropriate that question was.
It was only in school when teachers had us trace out Xmas wreaths and cut out Santa Claus that I was in pain. I was left handed and could not cut very well under any circumstances. Besides, no one was sensitive to how alien these symbols were for me, so I just went along to get along. The same was true in later years, when I loved to sing in the choir. At Christmas, I had to sing all the hymns and Christian songs that were so unfamiliar. It grieved my dad when he came to an assembly program one time and saw me utter the words that were never ever mentioned in our home.
As we entered our teen years, I was never again invited to join my gentile friends in anything social – just in school activities. I learned later that many attended a social dancing class on Saturdays at a Miss somebody or other’s salon, where they learned social graces of how to behave at social gatherings and how to dance with a partner correctly. I never did learn that skill!!
However, I learned other skills as president of a newly formed Young Judea group in New Brunswick, since all my family were Zionists. My grandmother, mother and all my aunts were life members of Hadassah and it was a natural thing for me to do. At the age of 12, I also had a memorable two week summer stint at the Jewish Camp sponsored by the Workmen’s Circle called Kinder Ring. It was there in the Catskills that I starred in a Yiddish play produced by a 2nd Avenue Jewish Theater professional. It was a high for me! After that experience, I went with my parents to the Yiddish theater in New York City frequently to see Maurice Schwartz and Molly Picon. We ate at Jewish restaurants like Rappaport's and Ratner's in downtown Manhattan. But, once my dad took me uptown to Rossoff’s, a more sophisticated restaurant, to show me how to order in the event I ever got to go out on a date to a place like that in the future. I was so thrilled. I felt so grown up and still remember that day with joy.
When my classmates asked me where I had gone over the weekend, I did not think they would ever have heard of these places, and so I told them the name of a restaurant I had read on the back of the envelope in which our tickets had come. It said Sardi’s. Whether it was shame or discomfort, I do not know, but our worlds were now so separate and apart, that I felt like I was an outsider looking in to their alien society.
Back in the small high school of less than 200 in our graduating class in Highland Park, I became the editor-in- chief of our high school paper, the president of the dramatic club and the director of our senior play. And, in our year book, there is my picture as the “Girl Voted the Most Likely to Succeed.”
However, I was not accepted into the Women’s College in New Brunswick. It was the only place my parents could afford, or would let me go since it was in our home town and I could commute. We were told that the quota for Jewish girls was filled and I was placed on a waiting list. My dad was devastated. It was his dream for his daughter to have a college education, at the school he wanted, but could not have. He had driven past the college for 20 years on his way to and from work.
By this time, he had made many influential friends in town and he contacted the one Jewish man who was on the Board of Trustees of the College. After Dad made a major contribution to the school, the quota was expanded to include me! This was my final experience of being Jewish in Highland Park and New Brunswick, NJ.
A few years later, when I became a professor at a New Jersey State College in another small town called Montclair, I once again felt as though I was back in Highland Park. I was among the few Jewish faculty members. And once again, I simply went about being Jewish because that is what I am. But this time, there was no longer any discomfort. This time there was a State of Israel in the world. That fact changed the way I felt about myself. Today, I am very comfortable as a Jewish woman in Bennington, even though it feels so similar to that small town in New Jersey where I grew up. The creation of a Jewish state has made the difference for me and thousands of other Jewish people growing up in the Diaspora. My children and my children’s children have no idea the difference it has made for them as they have grown up.
February 1, 2002
Areas We Serve
Beth El serves a broad geographic area including southwestern Vermont, northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts, and eastern Resnsselaer and Washington counties in New York. Click Contact to see a map of our location.
Congregation Beth El is a diverse and welcoming Jewish community, balancing traditional Jewish core strengths and values with a forward-looking perspective that respects our ever-evolving culture.
Building on an inherited congregational history dating back to 1909, Congregation Beth El looks to its history and roots for inspiration, while forging multiple paths for its members to address and express their Jewish identity.
Programs and activities that appeal to a wide range of congregants, opportunities to socialize with our geographically dispersed membership, and responsible financial stewardship are actions which will carry Congregation Beth El onward through a sustainable and secure second century