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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.

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