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Morris County Commissioner Deborah Smith. (Photo: Morris County Board of Commissioners).

Opinion: Randolph Township History is Jewish American History

By Deborah Smith, February 08 2022 6:15 pm

It is difficult to understand what is going on with Randolph Township’s Board of Education and what appears to be a fixation with cleansing the school system of American history and our traditions.

This year, Rosh Hashanah has been targeted for scrubbing.

Last year, it was Columbus Day – a thoughtless insult to Randolph’s descendants of Italian immigrants as the board renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It caused controversy and prompted another, knee-jerk board misstep:  They tried to correct their mistake by voting to eliminate all the proper names of all the holidays on the school calendar.

They hoped to insult no one, while keeping the days off.  Of course, that just insulted everyone.

The board then went back to the way things had been – until now.

In another review of holidays last November, Randolph decided to conduct a survey to determine what holidays could be eliminated from the school calendar. Half of Rosh Hashanah – a two-day observance — lost the straw poll.

Why is that significant and problematic? Because Randolph Township’s history is Jewish history in America – and the board apparently does not realize that. Maybe it is because history is no longer an important subject in schools these days.

However, as a Jew, I cannot sit idle as that important fact of life in Randolph Township is so callously erased.

I live in Denville, right on the Randolph border, and my husband grew up in Randolph. In fact, his mother was instrumental in Randolph Township recognizing both days of Rosh Hashanah – a fete not easily accomplished decades ago.

If the board understood history, they would know Randolph Township was once the Catskills of New Jersey. Jews had made the township and other select areas in the region their vacationland in early 1920s when Jews were targets of the worst type of discrimination.

It was a time when millions of Ku Klux Klansmen marched openly in our nation’s capital and Jews were banned from New York City hotels.  Many Shore resorts were “restricted” – another way of telling Jews to stay out of town – and Jews had to look elsewhere to build their own havens.

Randolph Township became a retreat for Jews everywhere, arguably second only to the Catskills. Even today, we can point to businesses, homes and centers throughout the Mount Freedom section that are the remnants of hotels and summer camps marking the heyday of Randolph being a Jewish vacationland that grew into a Jewish homeland.

Our people helped to build this community, open businesses to support the tax base and make Randolph the beautiful residential community it has become. Jews helped to build the school system that is now diminishing Rosh Hashanah. This is not just some town that happened to have some Jews suddenly move in. This township is a piece of the Jewish story in our great nation.

That is why the observance of Rosh Hashanah has been so important on the Randolph Township school calendar, and why it must remain.

We cannot and should not paint over this important history.

I urge everyone, both Jews and gentiles who embrace America and its history, to attend the Feb. 15 public meeting of the Randolph Board of Education to voice objections to this truly terrible decision. The public portion begins at 6:30 p.m. and takes place in the Randolph Middle School Cafeteria, 507 Millbrook Avenue, Randolph, New Jersey.

They require masking to attend.

Please, let’s fight back before they further erode our collective history.

Deborah Smith is a Morris County Commissioner.

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