I was in Claremont last fall, and my first stop, as always, was the Jewish cemetery. My parents and grandparents are buried there, along with nearly all the Jews of Claremont who were grownups when I was a child. I have written of those hardy souls before, how many of them were born in the Old Country, and those who were first generation Americans, like my parents, carried with them a sense of the past that has, alas, evaporated over time.
As I walked from headstone to headstone I engaged in my customary ritual, which is to tell the pianist who was who and what I remember about each of them. My grandfather was one of the founders, telling the community that we shouldn’t have to “schlep” (the Yiddish word for “carry” or “lug”) our late loved ones off to Boston. My father chose the plot nearest the entrance, whether to greet visitors or to be the first to greet them I do not know.
Before we had the cemetery we had the synagogue, Temple Myer David. Those are the first names of the two Claremont Jews who died in World War II, Myer Satzow and David Blumberg. Neither is buried in Claremont. Myer is at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. I haven’t been able to locate David.
Today, alas, the Jews of Claremont are few indeed. And the cemetery, land acquired back in the day, seems destined always to be half empty. I thought about how that population has dwindled in recent decades when I recently read about the Jews of Indonesia. Yes, Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population. In a city called Manado, the government has paid $150,000 to erect a mountaintop menorah 62 feet high, perhaps the biggest one in the world. Who knew they had Jews in Indonesia! I didn’t, but then again I would meet New Yorkers who didn’t know there were Jews in New Hampshire (not to mention Claremont).
The Jews of Indonesia are the descendents of Dutch Jews who settled there centuries ago but whose Jewishness disappeared, or at least went into hiding, when the country became independent and it was no longer safe to practice the religion. Like the “Conversos” of 14th and 15th century Spain, and Jews from many other parts of the world, they converted. Later generations did not even know _____________.
Yet, little by little, the Jews of Manado are rediscovering who they are, regaining their identity and returning to the faith of their ancestors. The eternal flame that burns in every synagogue, and in the hearts of most Jews, has been re-ignited. Or maybe it never went out.