December 16, 2022

Knowing Where You Came From

Karen Auerbach Bocaletti Manager, Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest NJ

“You’ll never get lost if you know where you came from.”

My mother, Chana Kagan Auerbach, of blessed memory, was fiercely committed to her Judaism and she repeated this mantra to me my whole life. Growing up in a town with very few Jews, I didn’t know what she meant. It felt confusing, didactic, even accusatory. I didn’t understand what she meant until I became an adult and a proud, active member of a Jewish community myself.

I’m approaching 100 days in my new role as program manager of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest (though nearing my sixth year as an employee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ) and my beloved mother’s words suddenly carry new and profound meaning.

The Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest researches, acquires, and archives Jewish history throughout our community, maintaining nearly 600 collections. I am in awe of these archives. They are our witness to the past, chart our journey, and illuminate our path forward. Our archival records serve to strengthen communal memory and ground our collective purpose, impact, and identity.

I recently interviewed our very own hometown hero, Sydney Levit, as part of our JHS commemoration of Veterans Day. Sydney served in World War II, earned a purple-heart, and, at 98 years young, thoroughly enjoys traveling and telling his story. I shared his story with my own father and was stunned to learn that my paternal grandfather had a similar experience serving in WWII, and that, most jaw-droppingly, he was awarded a medal for rescuing the paratroopers of the 101st airborne division.

It struck me how we Jews, no matter where – or who – we came from, share a similar story. Our stories intersect. They overlap. And it is from this shared story that we gain so much strength.

We. Us. Jews. We love our stories!

Year after year, we retell our stories, our Jewish journeys, our history. Why are we about to celebrate and retell the story of Hannukah? Lest we might forget? No, it is so we remember – remember where we came from. We tell our stories because they ground our collective sense of purpose. Our story-telling roots us in our Jewish identify.

Since the first established Jewish community in Newark in the mid 1800’s, the Greater MetroWest history is that of a strong, vibrant, and supportive community which we all are welcome to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from. As a professional of Jewish communal work, a loyal donor, a recipient of PJ Library, a participant at Jewish day camp, I am so gratified to serve the Greater MetroWest community and to further the work of the Jewish Historical Society. It is a privilege to share where our community came from and the treasures we hold in our archives.

I find myself musing about what history will say about these last few years. There is no question that working at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater MetroWest in today’s climate carries additional value. It is our responsibility to fiercely defend truth when history is challenged. It is our responsibility to provide historical facts when our impact is diminished. It is our responsibility to preserve the stories of today so that generations from now, they can continue to tell our stories.

For nearly 100 years, our Jewish Federation and community partners – the agencies, synagogues, schools, camps, businesses, and all of us – have been building a foundation, a dynamic community that we can all be proud of.

Today I marvel at my mother’s words – you’ll never get lost if you know where you came from – and can’t help but imagine her smiling and saying “I told you so” now that I am working in an organization dedicated to helping the Jewish community remember where it came from.

*Today is tomorrow’s history. If you have a story or artifact to share, please contact us. You are a part of the Greater MetroWest Jewish legacy for generations to come.