THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents
Jews in Small Towns:
CONSTANCE SMITH--MILFORD, NEW JERSEY
I was born in Newark, New Jersey on May 3,1926, to Frieda and Charles Eisler, who emigrated from Hungary in the early part of the century. I learned after I was grown that my father suffered much prejudice in Europe and, in my opinion, felt that in America, in his field of engineering--and for personal recognition--it was better not to be identified as Jewish. I am sure fear was a big factor.
My mother read from her Hebrew to Hungarian to German worn, leather-bound prayer book only in bed at night! I never heard the word "Jewish" spoken in English, only in Hungarian. I had a deep sense that something was wrong or secret or hidden, but I didn't know what.
My two sisters and I went to a private girls' school, Miss Beard's School, through the twelfth grade. I learned long after I graduated that they would take all three of us only as a group. Times were hard and I think they needed the tuition. There were very few Jewish students, but there, as in college, I was drawn to them as if through some unspoken bond.
Daddy was very successful financially, and we moved from Newark to South Orange, when I was four (in 1930). Almost across the street was the Orange Lawn Tennis Club, where my father applied for membership. He was told that, while they were sure he had a very nice family, it was against their policy to admit Jews. As a result of this rejection, he bought several hundred acres of farmland about one-hour's drive from home. Here he made his own country club with a pool, horses, air-strip, cows, etc. It became our second home, where he allowed non-profit organizations to have large fund-raising picnics. Hungarian groups, usually church-oriented, frequented the farm on many occasions without any fee. I know he felt a kinship to all other Hungarians regardless of religion. He signed affidavits of support for literally hundreds of Hungarian refugees who wanted to come to America and work in a free society.
There was, at the time when I was a child, a very fashionable Jewish country club near South Orange, but we never joined it. I was invited there to dances as a teenager. I was also often invited to the restricted Orange Lawn Tennis Club, no longer restricted now, by schoolmates whose families were members. I was far more comfortable at the former.
At Christmas time, we always had a very large tree, beautifully decorated. I continued this practice for several years after I was married, mostly out of habit. My husband went along with this only to please me. The grounds of my parents' home were lavishly decorated at Christmas, to the extent that people from miles around came to see them.
When I made application to college, the forms asked for religious affiliation. This is no longer being done. My father told me to write Episcopalian. Who could spell it! I knew it wasn't right, but I listened to him anyway. My roommate delighted in saying that her boyfriend's name was Brandenburg, but he was not a Jew. I wanted to curl up and die!
At one point, a friend who was home on leave from service in World War II said, "I'll see you tomorrow night." It was to be Friday night and he quickly corrected himself and said, "Oops, I can't, I have to go to shul." I said, "You mean school." Of course, I got laughed at and felt very deprived that I didn't know more of my roots and heritage. As a matter of fact, I think it is a miracle that all three girls ended up marrying Jewish boys. My brother, Charles, Jr., did marry a Christian girl, converted, and raised their children as Christians.
It seems to me that, while my mother was patriotic, working for many national causes, and was basically a good person, she was not able to oppose my father's decision to hide our Jewishness. Therefore, we were raised without any Jewish religious education.
At one point, my brother's wife took us to her church's Sunday school where the teacher was the pastor who performed her marriage ceremony. This went on for several years--church and church school! I also went on several occasions to a Christian Science Sunday school with my best friend, Ethel.
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