History and the New Jersey Jewish News
We’ve often noticed that stories in the paper often revolve around themes; those themes seem to occur randomly. They’re not connected to the calendar, it seems, or to much of anything else. They just sort of happen.
This week’s theme is history.
One of the stories is about an issue that is pressing, and we must pay attention to it. The rise in antisemitism around the world is hitting not only here but in Russia as well. There, the evil of Jew-hatred is merging seamlessly with the rest of the evil permeating Russia right now, the bloodlust that is animating Vladimir Putin and his hangers-on.
The unleashed desire for more and more power that propels Putin has pushed open the sewer lids that once contained the putrid slime of antisemitism, to use Abe Foxman’s metaphor, and allows all the old hatreds, including all the bone-deep old tropes, to breathe and expand in the air once again.
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That’s why Evgenia Berkovich is in prison now. That’s why Evan Gershkovich — a U.S. citizen and accredited journalist for a major American publication — is in the same infamous prison, charged, improbably, with espionage.
All we can do is keep their names in the news, but that is something that we must do. Consider this week’s story, and this editorial, a tiny drop in the very large bucket that we must keep filled, the bucket of remembering.
Another story about history this week is the one about the plane crashes over Teaneck. Those crashes largely have been forgotten, even by people who’ve lived in the town for almost ever. And at least the first one was caused by human error, something obviously we never will outgrow. The town was extraordinarily lucky; three planes fell out of the sky to crash land on its streets, and only one person, the pilot of the 1950 flight, died.
The country was newly at war in 1942, and the tension, we are told, was so thick as to be almost palpable. So the idea of planes crashing and men dressed in black leather striding out of them would have been even more terrifying then than it would be now. But the area managed not to lose itself in fear and rage, but to move forward, to rebuild, and then to forget.
There are all sorts of stories that walkers can stumble upon. That’s one of the glories of roving, even in the suburbs. You might think you’ve seen it all, but the odds are that you have not.
The third history story this week is the one about the writer Jerry Izenberg. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to him, although I did not write the story about him. He’s 92 now; he’s been writing and telling stories for what? Seven decades? At least seven decades. So he’s a marvelously gifted storyteller, and to be on the phone with him is to be regaled by stories.
Some of them are hilarious; he talks about his bar mitzvah, at Temple B’nai Abraham in Newark, with Rabbi Joachim (or Joe-akim, as his Lithuanian-born former-minor-leaguer father pronounced it) Prinz presiding. Some of them are gripping — those are the ones about Newark before, during, and after the riots. Some are moving — that would include how he and his wife of 45 years met. (She’s Black, and their meeting did not happen at a time when racially mixed marriages were easy.) Many of the stories are Jewish.
So the lessons from this week’s stories seem to be that history is always there, behind everything, waiting for us to discover it. Some of it is marvelous. Some of it is horrifying. Much of it is improbable. And all of it is waiting for us to discover it.