A “wonderful thing” took place recently with the dedication of a playground at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth to the memory of three children of congregants.
On May 31, about 150 congregants and children and parents of the synagogue’s Above and Beyond Child Care Center celebrated the opening of the new playground. Dedicated as the Seth Weinstein Memorial Playground, the project was primarily funded by Bart Weinstein in memory of his son, along with Ed and Freda Cohen in memory of their daughter Elyse, and Joseph and Rifka Moyal in memory of their son Zachai Lev; the temple sisterhood is also a funder.
The ceremony included a pizza party and entertainment by singer/songwriter Eric Komar, who led the youngsters in attendance in dancing and singing. Following a ribbon-cutting by Weinstein and his wife, Dr. Debra Goldstein, the children immediately raced to try out the playground’s swings, slides, and climbing equipment.
The idea for the playground was proposed by Rabbi Eliot Malomet when he and Weinstein happened to find themselves on the same train heading into New York one morning.
“I thought it was a wonderful thing. I only hope many of you can play safely here,” Weinstein told the youngsters at the gathering. “The safety of all children was very important to Seth.”
A physically strapping youth, Seth saw it as his mission in life to protect other children from bullies, his father told NJJN. In 1995, Seth died at age 18 from a brain tumor.
“This is a place where kids can play and, God willing, a place where they can play safely,” said Weinstein. “This is a project Seth would have loved.” Weinstein said not only did he like the idea, but his two daughters also thought it would be a fitting tribute to their brother.
Malomet described Seth as “a great kid” and said the project was especially meaningful even though working on it brought up painful memories of his own brother, who died of cancer at the same age as Seth.
“Seth was really courageous,” recalled Malomet. “He stayed upbeat throughout his illness.”
Even though Seth was suffering from his condition in high school, his father said, he gamely soldiered on, including taking part in the Neshama program — the semester-long educational program in Israel that begins with a week in Poland — with his fellow seniors at what is now Golda Och Academy in West Orange.
“About halfway through the trip he had to stop participating in anything somewhat strenuous,” said Weinstein. “One of the kids later came up to me and said that Seth was his hero. I think part of the reason was that he was protecting his mother, who was also sick.” Elaine Weinstein died in 2000.
Ed Cohen also thought the project was “very worthwhile,” and added, “I hope they use it well.”
He said his daughter, a graduate of the University of Michigan, developed breast cancer at age 25 and died 13 years later from the disease in 1986.
“We still miss her and always will,” said the 98-year-old Cohen.
Zachai was born with a heart condition and passed away at just 21 days old in September 1995. His grandparents, Justin and Gittel Footerman, are cochairs of the Above and Beyond Committee at the temple.
As he walked around the space, which will soon be fenced in and landscaped, Justin Footerman said that a garden, including vegetables, will be planted to signify “continued growth and life.”