In researching the history of Jews in Morris and Sussex counties, Linda Forgosh spoke to descendants of families instrumental in founding the area’s synagogues, hotel resorts, and other Jewish institutions.
She was particularly struck, however, by the recollections of the people she interviewed, who, she said, “recalled their grandparents’ role and activities but for whatever reason were more impressed by their grandmothers’ contributions than those of the men in the mix.”
Forgosh said the interviews suggested that while the men held the seats of power, the women played a primary role by prodding their husbands to create the public infrastructure of Jewish life.
Such women “have never really been given credit,” said Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest NJ. “The idea is to take the women by name, by stories, by photographs, to illustrate how they are responsible for some amazing history.”
“Ladies Night” — an evening of music, mementos, and a lecture by Forgosh — will pay special tribute to the Jewish women of Morris County on Wednesday evening, Oct. 21, at the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
The event will feature the presentation of a musical cantata by Shiru Nah, a women’s volunteer choral group that raises money for Israel.
The program is being produced in collaboration with UJC’s Morris County Outreach director, Dana Lichtenberg, who conceived the event to draw people to the reprise of a JHS exhibit first displayed in 2006, “The Jews of Morris and Sussex: Early Settlers, Synagogues, Hotel Resorts, and Lake Communities,” which is on display at the Whippany campus through Nov. 11.
Forgosh and Lichtenberg found women active in the area’s Jewish life dating back to the 19th century and the start of a community that now has 20 synagogues in Morris County and two in Sussex. Six of the congregations have been around for more than 100 years.
The role of women has been, in part, obscured by a practice common as recently as the 1970s: In UJA campaign brochures and other community literature, married women were identified by their husbands’ first names — not “Sadie Cohen,” but “Mrs. Harry Cohen,”
Like the exhibit, said Forgosh, the tribute evening will mix serious reflection with an anecdotal look at local history.
She said she hopes exposure to the stories of the “pioneering” women of Morris and Sussex counties will “encourage women who are unaffiliated to become involved with the greater Jewish community — through a synagogue or an organization or federation activities.”