Here in New Jersey we always pay great homage to our homegrown rock star greats—Springsteen and Bon Jovi just to name a few. What makes us love them so much is not just that they are truly amazing, but that they love New Jersey and their roots just as much as we love claiming them as our own. We have fierce Jersey pride, and so do they.
I’ve never been shy about my roots on personal level, continuously involving myself in my children’s school and my synagogue. On a professional level, though, it’s been somewhat different. In my former, pre-mommy life as a teacher, I spent the bulk of my career teaching at a school in the Bronx, even braving the horrid commute from Livingston once I had moved out of the city. Teaching within my own community did not appeal to me at all.
In my second post-mommy world of academia, I returned to school to earn a second master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The bulk of my work there was in research. I am not the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, so I didn’t feel beholden to any particular research area and figured I would study and research whatever it was that piqued my interest. I even joked that I would pick my research and writing topics based on where I wanted to travel—let’s be honest, studying the deportation of Jews from Paris is appealing, especially if it necessitates a trip across the pond for a few weeks. I held grand visions of burying myself in archives by day and sipping wine on the banks of the Seine each night.
With my studies drawing to an end, I began to think about where I would want to work in the immediate future. Although the appeal of taking my family abroad and immersing myself in the great past of European Jewish culture still remained, there was very little realism to it. As much as I yearn to save that old world, it is far-gone and beyond my saving at this point.
So I focused on a more plausible location: New York City. The multitude of museums, organizations, and even the United Nations, all within a relatively short commute to Manhattan, seemed much more attainable than Europe. I started venturing into the city for several interviews. Yet something–possibly the commute, or the vastness of it all, or the lack of personal connection to any of the places I was considering–was keeping me from going forward with any of those opportunities.
Then, at the wonderful world of elementary school pick-up, a friend suggested I look right here, in my own community. And my response: what?! Yet, I soon learned that, right here in the Greater MetroWest Community, we have an extremely hard-working, dedicated Holocaust Council, comprised of mainly volunteers, that are determined to ensure the preservation and remembrance of not just the broader tragedy of the Holocaust but specifically recall the incredible stories of survival and courage from within our own community.
Time is certainly not standing still. Stories of the Holocaust need to be told as often as possible. I have long held that belief and found that it was also a mission within my own community to preserve these stories to be shared now and for generations to come.
Along with many other incredible programs, The Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Center in Whippany hosts an annual exhibit from the end of January through the beginning of May that shares 50 of these local stories. They do this through photo montages and explanatory texts that recount these local Holocaust survivors’ pre-war, war, and post-war experiences. In addition, there are display cases of artifacts from survivors, POWs, liberators, and WWII veterans. Not only is viewing the signature exhibit a moving experience on Holocaust education, but it brings to our area the rich history of so many lives shattered by the Holocaust and then rebuilt right here in New Jersey.
After a few introductions and a meeting with the director of the Holocaust Council, it was quickly a done deal. I will spend the next few months right here in my own backyard, learning the stories of my own community and sharing them with others.
Just a few short weeks ago, I would have directed anyone looking for Holocaust education to Manhattan or Washington, D.C., or recommended a trip to Europe, but guess what? I took the advice of Jersey great Bon Jovi himself: “Who says you can’t go home?”
To arrange a group tour of this exhibit, or of the special exhibit on “Women in the Holocaust,” with a trained docent or to learn more about the fantastic programs we offer right in the Greater MetroWest area, please contact the Holocaust council at (973) 929-3194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.