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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Social Change at the Jersey Shore July 27, 2016

I am a first generation American Jewish woman, spending a few days at a middle class part of the Jersey Shore, where my parents took me and my sisters every summer to escape the heat and the threat of polio in the city. We stayed in rented rooms with kitchen privileges, the first one in 1940 in Asbury Park, where I remember clearly being delighted by pushing the wicker rocking chairs on the wide wraparound veranda. The expansive boardwalk was the tourist and
community center where families and teens walked, bought fudge and soft ice cream and screamed in joy on "the rides." We were probably a diverse group with many different origins and family histories, but very few were Black, Chinese, Indian or Hispanic.

After that initial summer, we rented rooms in the southern blocks of Bradley Beach which became known as the Jewish section. To the immediate north, Italian families congregated and further north Black families began to arrive after the war ended. There is a town between Asbury Park and Bradley Beach, which is the Methodist town of Ocean Grove which always welcomed anyone who wished to worship with them.

And that's the way I experienced segregated life at the shore until 1953 when my parents moved from the city to the suburbs and we no longer spent the whole summer at the beach.My grandparents continued to rent rooms however and I spent a week with them for the next few summers. 

Life in the suburbs was no longer spent in the comfort of other Jewish families living in one section of the city; I was but one of five Jewish girls in my high school class. I was treated cordially by the other girls, but only one of the Jewish girls was invited to the Sweet Sixteen parties of the others. Her family had lived in town for a very long time. We were ostensibly newcomers whom the parents of our classmates had not met and never did. We had one Black family in town; their daughter who was my age was not invited either, to my knowledge. She was really alone.

Thirty years later, I returned to what I consider to be "my" part of the Jersey Shore for weekends alone or with girlfriends. When I remarried, my husband joined me each summer for my seashore "fix." This is my 33rd summer here, once again alone. But not in Bradley Beach or Asbury Park, which went through very difficult economic times and are only now recuperating as tourist spots. Every summer I "walk the boards" from Belmar to Asbury Park, a distance of about four miles and what I am seeing this year is surprising in a good way.

The beach and boardwalk are filled with beach goers of all ethnic groups, families of 10 or 12 Indian, Chinese, Black and Eastern European people and a few Muslim families, mixing with the local population, bringing coolers and picnic baskets, umbrellas and sand chairs, sand toys and blankets to spend the day at the beach in Belmar and Ocean Grove, where everyone was generally welcome, to Asbury Park and Bradley Beach and Avon-by-the-Sea. The middle class is alive and well; it is just no longer all-white.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Fifth Stage July 9, 2016

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross studied about death and dying. She concluded that we all travel through five stages when there is an impending death. We also expereince these same stages when we are waiting for a possible diagnosis, we wait before we are told whether we have gained access to our chosen university or college and whether we have been accepted for the great job for which we have applied.

When someone we love dies, we go through all the stages again, although we've been down this route, through the initial fear that our loved one may be ill, through the Alzheimer's diagnosis, which may take years for the doctors to categorize, through each step of our loved one losing connection with us and with their world.

The stages are expressed differently of course, each time we pass through them. When my father died, I was angry with him for dying young and depriving me and his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren of his presence. He made the choice to try an elective surgical procedure which was successful, except that his heart was not strong enough to endure the surgery. I denied how sick he had been and I expected him to cope with his illness for our sakes. When he died, I bargained for my own health, I began to exercise, to watch my weight, to stop using anything with aluminum, including underarm anti-perspirant. After a time, I accepted that I had to care for my mother and get on with my life without his support and help.
When my mother died of Alzheimer's disease, my anger turned toward the disease and my frustration that there is no cure and very little knowledge. I am still angry about that which is why I have written this blog for so many years and why I wrote my book Put That Knife Away. My bargain then was to try to enjoy life, to travel, to appreciate each day.

When my husband died one year ago, after losing his battle with Alzheimer's disease, I couldn't get in touch with angry feelings. I felt relief, at first, that his suffering was over. He had had so little quality of life for so long. I certainly was not in denial any longer and the bargaining I had thought about had worked--the medications we tried, the move to Arizona, his workshop and his backyard had kept my husband's life as active and full as we could provide. He had independence and dignity, plus kindness and caring surrounding him. I had my family around me.

Then I began to feel anger -at my loss. I began to miss the person he was before he became ill. I missed my lover, m y companion, my cook ( he loved working in the kitchen) and my travel partner. I tried to travel without him, denying the reality of my loss. I am strong. I can carry on, but it is certainly not the same.

In our tradition, after the year is over, it is time to leave the grief and mourning aside and get on with life. It is time for acceptance. The marker is on the gravesite, but I really don't feel my husband resides there. He is with me always, as I reminisce about our time together as well as when I experience new travels, when I see new stores opening where our old favorites have been, when I revisit places we have shared together. I experience short bouts of longing, of sadness which don't reach the level of depression any more. And I recognize how fortunate we both were to have had our time together, which no one can take from any of us who survive. On to a new year of promise, of learning, of new friends and old, enjoying our newly expanded family and perhaps I will begin a new book project.