Local woman raises her voice on behalf of immigrants
Members of Our Tribe

Local woman raises her voice on behalf of immigrants

Passionate activist says Jews ‘cannot be silent’ in welcoming the stranger

Susan Whyman said that in a time “of hatred and division, we can take action and fight for social justice.”
Susan Whyman said that in a time “of hatred and division, we can take action and fight for social justice.”

In 1890, at about age 11, Sarah Einhorn was smuggled out of the Russian Pale of Settlement, put on a ship in a German port, and, as an unaccompanied minor, made the arduous ocean voyage to America, alone in steerage. When she arrived in New York, she had a cardboard sign around her neck with the name of an aunt who was to meet her on Ellis Island. But no one came.

Inspired by that story, that girl’s granddaughter, Susan Whyman, has committed to action reflecting her declaration: “As the people of the book and descendants of immigrants, we must raise our voices for immigrants. We cannot be silent.”

It’s what happened to her grandmother that resonates with the 82-year-old Fair Haven resident as she responds to the difficulties facing today’s newcomers.

While her grandmother was crossing the ocean, said Whyman, “her aunt, who was to give her a home here, died. So when she got to the Statue of Liberty, there was no one there. They put her in a wire pen with some other people who were being sent back to Germany.”

What most intrigues Whyman is what happened next: Two women, strangers who had immigrated to New York from the area around Bialystok in Poland, near where her grandmother had come from, “heard about her and came and gave her a home.”

Moved by the tale of her grandmother’s rescue from deportation, Whyman asked herself, “Today, who will replace these courageous women and stand by our present immigrants?”

She got her answer in part through discussions with Rabbi Marc Kline of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, where she is a congregant. Among other things, they talked about the centrality in Jewish tradition of the principle of welcoming the stranger, which is included in the Torah 36 times. Whyman decided to channel her passion by joining the Immigration Committee of the Greater Red Bank Women’s Initiative, a group formed after the 2017 Women’s March in the District of Columbia. The committee collaborates with area churches, schools, and organizations to help immigrants with a range of services.

She sees the mission as part of a Jewish mandate. “There are so many reasons Jews should support local immigrants,” said Whyman. “We all have immigrant ancestors, and our success in American society has been founded on our ability to be educated; most importantly, our Torah teaches us to help our neighbors and repair the world through tikkun olam.”

As a committee member, Whyman has worked in partnership with Brookdale Community College in Lincroft and St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Red Bank to establish such services as classes in English as a Second Language and a program at the church that trains immigrants to become seamstresses, for which the committee raised money to purchase sewing machines.

Additionally, the committee partners with Red Bank’s American Friends Service Committee, which is affiliated with the Quakers, to help young immigrants secure financial aid to further their education. Committee members and partners also advocate for legislation at the state and federal level benefitting immigrants and those who qualify as DACA Dreamers (individuals whose parents brought them to the United States as young children).

She is, she said, “passionate about this work.”

Whyman moved to Ocean Township with her parents, Benjamin and Carolyn Beitman Einhorn, in 1939. Her father was on the building committee of Temple Beth Miriam when it moved from its original location to Elberon in 1952.

In 1969, she and her husband, Frank, and their two children joined Monmouth Reform Temple. She cofounded the congregation’s first library and represented the religious school on its board for eight years. She currently is active on education and social justice projects at the synagogue.

Whyman, who is in the Hall of Fame of her alma mater, Asbury Park High School, earned a degree in history from Mount Holyoke College and a master’s degree in library and information science from Rutgers University. After some years working for the Monmouth County Library, at age 50 Whyman went back to the classroom to earn both a master’s and a doctorate in British history from Princeton University.

For the next 25 years, she was a writer — she is the author of four books on social history, all published by Oxford University Press — a teacher, a researcher, and a mentor to students at Oxford, spending part of the year in England until her husband’s death in 2015. The grandmother of four is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in London.

As a member of the Youth Career Pathways task force of United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, she helps disadvantaged youth, and she is a founder of the United Way’s volunteer center, which matches volunteers with social service agencies in need of their skills.

Whyman is a former member of the board of trustees at Brookdale and has established several scholarships there for local students.

“In a time of hatred and division,” she said, “we can convert our sadness and frustration by taking action and fighting for social justice.”

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