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A World View Shaped from a Small Town Jewish Perspective

12/08/2017 02:11:22 PM

Dec8

Daniel S. Mariaschin, B'nai Brith Executive VP & HTAA Past President

A World View Shaped from a Small Town Jewish Perspective
by Daniel S. Mariaschin, B'nai Brith Executive VP & HTAA Past President

In 1955, just before I entered the first grade, we moved from Englewood, New Jersey, to Swanzey, New Hampshire.

To go from the center of the Jewish universe–the New York metropolitan area–to a region with some 25 Jewish families, represented a major transition.

In New Jersey, we had Jewish neighbors on our block; in New Hampshire, there were but four Jewish families in our semi-rural town of about 3,000 people, just outside the small city of Keene. Kosher food? Readily accessible before we moved; but when we were in New England, my uncle in Boston sent a box of meat once a month on the bus from Boston, 85 miles away. Organized Jewish life? In New Jersey, the Jewish Community Center was a 15-minute walk from our house; in Keene, the small synagogue, housed in a grand, former house on a tree-lined street, was the center of activity for everything Jewish.

So why the move? My parents had an opportunity to purchase a women’s clothing store and a chance to run their own business. My mother, an immigrant from Lithuania in the early years of the last century, was raised in Maine, so the return to New England was not so difficult. My father, who emigrated from Russia, was raised in Brooklyn and always loved to vacation in Maine, with its rocky coastline and fresh air. And we had relatives in Boston, close enough to reach if need be.

To call our Jewish community a minority, would be an understatement. There were other small ethnic communities in our area, but they were all bound, in one way or another, religiously with the rest of the population. I was, for a time, the only Jewish student in my school, later to be joined by several others a bit younger than me.

School would no sooner open in September than I would be out for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Christmas/Chanukah season always presented the same dilemma: how to explain to my friends that I didn’t receive gifts under a decorated tree but around a menorah, which we lit for eight nights. In the third grade, my teacher asked me to present the story of the Maccabees to our class, which I did, notwithstanding my uneasiness at being front and center different than all my classmates.

 

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