Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey

February 25, 2007 - A Day to Remember

by Sharon Herson

Snow is beginning to fall. It's exactly 4:15 in the afternoon on February 25. You might say our prayers were answered: the snow did not begin to fall until everyone was safely home from a memorable event at the Center.

The Prelude
The day began for me with sweet odors of baked goods wafting up from the kitchen as Daniel and I lumbered into the hallway, carrying the first of many bags of food prepared for the luncheon that was to follow Charlotte's reading. A good omen, I thought. There must have been ten adults and an equal numbers of kids between the simcha room and the kitchen, all engaged in shaping or stuffing or putting name tags on or baking hamantashen. Each child made at least one, some with, some without adult assistance. It became clear to us that everyone in the entire school was having a turn at this extremely well organized, fun activity.

I had been worried about how we would be able to do set up for the luncheon with all the baking that was to occur just beforehand. My worries turned out to be without foundation. Although we overlapped, we were able to work around each other. The PTO people not only cleaned up in plenty of time but some were able to stay and help with the setup for lunch, joining a few other members who came to assist (with setup and cleanup). So . . . thanks to everyone who made the luncheon happen on time, to everyone who enabled all of us to get home before the storm by assisting with cleanup, and to everyone who made food and desserts that we all enjoyed immensely: Esther Bakonyi, Debbie Fesinstine, Lynn Kestecher, Debbie Knobelman, Susan McNamara, Helen Mattson, Jennifer Rosenblum, Teri Stanton, and Joanne Weiss (apologies if I inadvertently left out anyone).

The Main Event
When I walked upstairs at 11:30 a.m., the sanctuary was nearly filled (I would guess close to one hundred people--thankfully, not all stayed for lunch, because I had planned for a max of "only" 70, which turned out to be about right). The Sunday School children were there, with their teachers, some of the parents, and a number of congregants and guests who had come just for the special event. Charlotte and her niece Tammy Mitchell were already seated on the bima, both looking very happy if a bit nervous. We started a few minutes later; my brief introduction of Tammy and Charlotte ended with a request that the group recite a shehecheyanu together in honor of the occasion.

Tammy spoke first. She explained that she had interviewed Charlotte, taping her for fourteen hours of conversation (most folks talk for eight or ten, she said, but she thought Charlotte could have continued, and she's right: Charlotte is a marvelous storyteller). The tapes were then professionally transcribed, then organized and edited by Tammy, who consciously--and successfully--retains Charlotte's "voice" in the finished version.

Tammy did not attempt to "sell" though she probably had a willing audience. Her "pitch"--and it rang true to my ear--was that every person has a story to tell, young and old alike. And that there are many different ways to obtain these stories. It's most pressing--even urgent, she said--to get the stories from our elders because we don't know how long they will be with us. But everyone can write about themselves--and I think should, so they don't forget.

Charlotte read for about twenty minutes from her memoir, This is My Story. She focused on her early childhood and ended with how she felt about coming to the Jewish Center. Charlotte remembers her childhood as a happy one; though her family was very poor, she was unaware of all the things she didn't have (she reminded us that there was no TV so there was really no way to know how other people lived).

Astonishingly, her family's apartment in a Lower East Side tenement in NYC, a fifth-floor walk-up (that means, no elevator) did not have any heating system, even in winter. The only available heat came from a coal-burning stove in the kitchen, where the family ate, dressed, and bathed in cold weather (the bathtub was in the kitchen). Charlotte said that the stove never worked properly because her parents never learned how to stoke the fire correctly.

The kids in the audience (Sunday School children aged 6 through 12 and a few older ones) were spellbound, and so were the adults.

After the formal program, most people adjourned to the simcha room for lunch. If you missed it, here's what we had (all homemade except for the bagels and cream cheese, and olives): poached salmon with dill sauce (made by me), pasta salad (made by Esther), green salad, cucumber salad (by Esther), various spreads (by Esther and me), fruit (strawberries, grapes, and pineapple), and sweet desserts (meringues [by Lynn Kestecher], white and dark chocolate truffles [by Teri Stanton], and I-don't-know-what-you-call-them-but-they-were-delicious [by Helen Mattson].

Charlotte brought a guest book, which was passed around during lunch for everyone to sign. Even the children wrote in it.


Lynne Kowski and Helen Mattson have lunch prepared.
Click to enlarge.

Charlotte had wanted to give the books away to people who would come to today's reading, but the Board prevailed upon her to "give" them in exchange for a donation to the Jewish Center. So if you took home a book, don't forget to send in your check to Paul May.

 

 

Copyright © 2007 Jewish Center of Northwest Jersey

Last updated: March 11, 2007