Be Involved: Silence is Assent

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Be Involved: Silence is Assent

Kol Nidrei 5774, search 13 September 2013

Central Synagogue of Nassau County

Rabbi Marc A. Gruber

I recall my dad’s service on the school board in Totowa Borough, New Jersey. He ran and was elected to this thankless task because he was committed to improving the education offered all students in our district. After about a year, life became tumultuous for our family. I attribute these difficult times to a combination of ignorance, selfishness, lack of concern about education, and anti-Semitism.

 

My dad advocated spending more money to improve the schools. I was in seventh grade at the time; we lived in a cul-de-sac. I recall the cars driving around the circle for hours at night honking horns, demanding that my dad resign. I remember threatening phone calls to our home and vituperative letters-to-the-editor of the local paper. Mr. Gillette, the principal of Washington Park Elementary School, began calling me from class to the office. My mom received threatening phone calls. The criminal on the other end of the phone announced that they kidnapped me and mom would never see me again, unless dad resigned from the School Board. She needed to hear my voice at school to know that I was indeed where I was supposed to be.

I say anti-Semitism was part of this hatred directed against our family because a friend of dad’s was elected at the same time. These two members of the Board had identical voting records. No one directed protests against my dad’s Christian colleague. In Wayne, where we attended synagogue, Newt Miller was elected to their school board using the slogan, “Don’t vote for Jews, they spend money on education.” He was later elected mayor.

Although dad’s efforts to improve our school system were futile, he would not resign as a matter of principle. We lived in Totowa Borough until his term expired, and then moved to Parsippany; at the time it had one of the best rated schools in the nation. When we moved, he gave a final open and forthright interview to the local paper.