Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Livnot Lie: Still Pushing the Ex-Mayor

Councilwoman Mittler, you made a huge mistake trying to insert ex-Mayor Meryl Frank into the rededication of the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth.

Crediting Frank for "being there for us, emotionally, and as our mayor" is shameless campaigning and abuse of a religious event for political purposes.

Yes, Frank happened to be mayor at the time the temple fire occurred. That's where it ends. This woman is no Rudolph Giuliani bringing a devastated New York City together after the September 11 terrorist attacks. She did not provide emotional support to the community. She provided it to her followers, and it stopped there.

Even now, when Frank is five months out of office, the promotion of her to cult status with her followers' repeated refrain of "our mayor" shamelessly continues.

In the issue of The Jewish State dated May 7, 2010, this inappropriate political remark is quoted, along with the statement, "Whether you as a congregant live here or not, as a member of this shul, you are an honorary resident of Highland Park."

That statement is a lie. Under Frank and her cult-like supporters, it was never true for even all borough residents. The many Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who did not support her were always treated like outsiders. "You're either with me or against me," Frank repeatedly stated.

None of this is new. What is both new and troubling is this latest effort by both borough officials and members of the temple leadership to once again insert politics where it doesn't belong.

You see, what hasn't been told is that there is a dark, ugly side to the events that happened 1,351 days ago.

Developers Helen and Michael Kaplan are not the only children of Holocaust survivors in this town. Highland Park is home to many survivors and to their children and grandchildren. I happen to be one of these children of survivors. My parents were a school-age child and a baby when their families were forced into hiding and living as refugees during those dark years. All of my materal great-grandparents plus great aunts, great uncles, and their children are among the six million who didn't survive.

My parents came here seeking a new life, freedom, and the right to active participation in our democracy. That is why they proudly supported my community activities in Highland Park and poured their hearts and souls into my campaigns for public office. Just the fact that their child was free to seek a leadership position was something for which they were always grateful.

However, to some in the leadership of the temple, the fact that I opposed Frank damned me to the netherworld of an eternal outsider because no matter how much one did for the town, if one didn't support Frank, no good deeds went unpunished.

When I ran for council in 2002 and 2005, inappropriate campaigning for Frank's candidates, my opponents, was done shamelessly by temple leaders at inappropriate occasions. In spite of this, I have always had an attachment to the temple building, as I did to the YM-YWHA, so when, on a Thursday morning, while volunteering at the Highland Park Community Food Pantry, I heard that there had been a fire at the temple, I hurried to the scene as soon as the Pantry closed to offer my help, disregarding the fact that the 90-degree heat would play havoc with my hypoglycemia if I didn't eat first.

Two thousand years ago, the Jewish sage Hillel, in a famous story, was asked by a man to teach him all of Judaism while the man stood on one foot. Hillel said, "that which is hateful to you, do not do onto others. The rest is all commentary."

On August 24, 2006, the rabbi of this temple did something hateful and inconceivable. When I offered my help, he responded, "you don't want to know what you can do" while at the same time begging Frank and Councilwoman Elsie Foster Dublin not to leave the site.

I have been a resident of Highland Park since 1969. My entire extended family lives here. Since 1999, I have run a free, non-partisan email newsletter as a public service to keep people in the loop about events going on in town.

So I said yes, I do want to know what I can do, knowing I could not only make a donation myself, but solicit donations from the 500 or so members of my newsletter.

And then came the hateful part. A rabbi, a supposed community leader, put politics above all else. "You can go away," he said. Those words have reverberated in my head for nearly four years.

This is not about me as an individual. It is about something hateful and obscene being done motivated solely by partisan politics. Apparently, to some temple leaders, one's help is wanted only if one supports Frank and her candidates.

So when the same rabbi says, "This is our story now. This is the story that has stamped itself on our lives," the statement is true for me too, but in a wholly different way.

No, I am no saint, and yes, I have engaged in negative campaigning. But when tragedy strikes, one expects politics to be put aside, as happened after September 11.

Jewish tradition teaches that another temple, the second great Temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed in the year 70 CE because of the senseless hatred rampant among the many Jewish factions in Israel at the time. That hate was so overwhelming that one group of zealots, in an effort to undermine an opposing faction, burned a storehouse of food that could have helped Jerusalem withstand a 21-year siege.

The same tradition says the Jerusalem Temple's eventual rebuilding will come from the exact opposite, "senseless love." Clearly, this community, Jewish and gentile, is not there yet.

In the months following August 24, 2006, I experienced tremendous personal suffering. It had nothing to do with election results. It had to do with being told by a religious leader of the community that I and my help weren't wanted. It became harder and harder to find motivation to continue volunteering in our community, plus the extreme stress wreaked havoc on my chronic digestive disorder.

If people's help is turned away because they hold opposing political views, the date might as well be August 24, 70 CE.

If I live to be 100 years old, I will never forget the obscenity of the way I was treated on that day.

Some good has come out of it. There is an old saying that "one doesn't have to suffer to be an artist, but it helps." I couldn't turn to most of the community beyond my family, so I turned to art, specifically, writing. Themes of hypocrisy, hatred, elitism, and valuing money over human life gradually coalesced into a 107-page play that I am now transforming into a novel.

It just so happens that one of my many other interests besides community service and politics is astronomy. In a bizarre twist of fate, four percent of the International Astronomical Union, in a highly controversial action, voted on that very same day, August 24, 2006, to strip Pluto of its planetary status. So Pluto and I were "dissed" in the same way on the same day, sealing an unusual bond forever between me and the little scorned planet. "The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone," as the Psalm says.

And this became the foundation of my play and novel-in-progress--the story of the underdog versus the elite. This is my story, forever stamped on my life. It is a strong reason why I fight so hard for the restoration of Pluto's planet status. That journey has taken me outside Highland Park to other communities that know human decency, most specifically, the club known as Amateur Astronomers, Inc. in Cranford, NJ. In terms of my volunteering, Highland Park's loss is Amateur Astronomers, Inc.'s gain.

Five months ago, this group was threatened with eviction from our observatory of 40+ years at Union County College. But an outpouring of support in the form of phone calls, letters, emails, etc., even one from the New Jersey Senate Majority leader, have forced the college's trustees to re-think their decision. As it stands now, our observatory--which has since become my "temple"--likely will face a reprieve.

If our club keeps the observatory, it will be a direct result of the outpouring of "senseless love."

I still love Highland Park even though I don't love all of its residents. That is why I want this town to practice real inclusion. It is why, if the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth wants to truly rebuild, its leaders must drop the political favoritism and biases once and for all.

The temple has completed its physical rebuilding. Now it, and our town, need to focus on spiritual rebuilding. That is the true miracle waiting to happen, and it is one wholly dependent on human rather than on divine action.

My great-grandmother, who was murdered in Riga, Latvia, in November 1941, is quoted as having once warned her children to "be more fearful of the judgments of people than of the judgments of God." Of course, she was talking about gossip, hatred, and the type of ugliness that reared its head in Highland Park on August 24, 2006, not about the genocide that would eventually take her life.

So this is my plea to temple leaders: please, give up the partisanship. Meryl Frank is not a god. She is not even mayor any more. Please, let now be the start of the miracle of inclusion, of accepting the help of all who offer it, of "senseless love."