This is a true story that occurred in a diner a few weeks ago as a mother and her teenage daughter were having dinner “together.” The mother was on her cell phone throughout the entire meal. The daughter, apparently used to this, automatically got up every five minutes to cut up her mother’s food so mom could still hold the cell phone up to her ear. The daughter seemed unfazed by it as if it were a routine she had down to a science. She herself was “playing” with her own pink gadget in between eating and cutting up her mother’s food. They went through the entire meal without spending any quality time with each other or communicating a single word. Did they savor the food they were eating? Did they savor the time they had together?
Those of us who work at the Jewish Historical Society of North Jersey see papers and photographs of many people and their families going back as far as the late 1800s. Many of our subjects are people we never heard of before and some we just “know of.” We pause and look into their faces and try to imagine their lives. We know they are long gone. Time flew by for them and their time on earth is gone except for their presence in our archives. Who were they when the camera “clicked” on them a hundred years ago? We wonder what their life was like and what was going through their minds at that second they were photographed. If they could live their lives all over again, would they live a more meaningful life? Would they savor every moment with their daughters?
History is awesome . . . it is happening right now as you are reading this newsletter. History is both happy and sad but it always puts things in perspective. We get to see who and what came before us, even if was only last month. We may understand ourselves and our surroundings better in the context of history. We can make comparisons. In the future people will stare at our photographs and wonder who we were. If so, do you like who you “were”? Can you stare “back” at those in the future in confidence? Did you take the people around you for granted?
This is a “tree story”: A tree means life. We can thank them for our furniture, paper, fruit, nuts, coffee, cocoa, maple syrup, and rubber. Their roots prevent erosion and floods. They shade us from the hot sun with their beautiful canopy of leaves. Trees are the symbol of life, of man, and of the Jewish people. G-d put two trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. When you plant a tree in memory of a deceased loved one it’s as if their spirit continues in the life of the tree. The Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat is the New Year for trees and the Israeli Arbor Day. We celebrate it this year on January 16th. In 1949 a whole forest was planted in Israel to mark the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. We buy trees to be planted in Israel even though we may never see those trees, sit under them or eat their fruit. We do it with faith and belief in the future of the world.
Last month’s newsletter told of the historic day on November 29, 1947, when the U.N. voted to partition our historic homeland, an event that would lead to the creation of the state of Israel. Now on Tu Bishvat we again remind you to feel closely tied to Israel and in the oneness of the Jewish people the world over.
Hug a tree! Hug your daughter! Check your closets!
Dorothy Douma Greene
A reminder that the JHSNJ is having a sports exhibit at the Y on Pike Drive in Wayne at the end of April that will extend through the end of June. You are cordially invited to our opening reception on Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 1 p.m. for an exclusive look at all your old sports heroes from Paterson, including the midget car races at Hinchliffe Stadium. The JHSNJ is always a winner!
Our special thanks goes out to John Manning, a high school teacher from Wayne who gave up part of his school vacation to aid in the purchase and installation of our new computer. John sorted through that rat’s nest of wires under our old computers, printers, and scanners and set up our new Dell machine so that we can better serve our readers and supporters. In the near future we hope to begin conducting oral interviews to preserve some of the living history of those that came before us.