|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||April 23, 1985|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (11/1985)|
(I) Has there ever been any attempt to see if you could make contact with some of these Orthodox Jewish neighbors through their synagogue or anything like that? Through the rabbis? You don't think they are at all interested?
(N) No because I walk by. I said hello, you know. And I give. One of the early languages I began to learn was Hebrew. My mother took care of a little Jewish girl who was, had Down Syndrome. She was totally rejected by her family. They felt that this was across that they had to bear. My mother was brought up in an environment where God made all children and if she, so in school they wouldn't teach her anything and my mother was horrified. She talked to the teachers and said, why don't you teach Florence? So after school, she would say, she had three daughters, so she would say, Mondays you teach her to read, Tuesdays you teach her math, Wednesdays you teach her to read again. We will then teach her manners. Because with Downs Syndrome, my mother noticed that she didn't bend correctly but she thought it was just that she wasn't brought up correctly and her mother hadn't taught her how the coordination issue and my mother was not a real one. She felt it was just that her parents hadn't taught her how to bend down. And it was a source of a lot of conflict and problems with other children. Anyway, this doesn't have anything to do with Teaneck. But she was the daughter of a rabbi and three of her uncles were rabbis. When she learned how to read, they were just ecstatic and they couldn't understand how a goya could you know and a Hispanic one at that, could do it but nonetheless she read, she learned math, she was obviously trainable. But in school, no one had ever thought she could. Anyway, in the process, they felt that what would save her soul was that she learn Hebrew like all her cousins. But no one else had been successful in teaching her how to read or teaching her anything so even thought it was in a goya house that was not kosher, even thought we had a special place for her and everything else, so she didn't get into too much trouble with her family, they decided well we will teach (her mother) how to, we will teach (her mother) Hebrew so that (her mother) could teach Florence. Why not go ahead and teach Florence? At the time I thought it made sense. I thought I taught her how to read, I thought it would be no problem. So I learned Hebrew. I mean I didn't learn it well. Today I remember very little of it. I go to services and I can read some of it and whatever. I could read a number of passages in Hebrew. I am very familiar with many of the chants, etc. She spent many years with us. So that it is not, my children playing with Jewish children.
(1) So that you found this sort of surprising?
(N) Oh yes, very. And obviously I have had communication with the sect, Orthodox persuasion, that was less radical than today because I have never seen the kind of isolation there is today. In Williamsburg, half the block was the largest Yeshiva in the country, that brought young men from all over the world to train as rabbis. (inaudible) at our Presbyterian Church and a lot of these young men came from Latin America and Central America and they had no one else to talk to. They didn't speak English. They spoke Hebrew, Yiddish and Spanish. And we spoke Yiddish from the streets because a lot of our friends mothers spoke Yiddish or grandmothers always did and we couldn't communicate with them unless it was in Yiddish. So we would have these interfaith discussions across the fence. We would mostly have basketball games. They weren't supposed to be playing with girls but with the men of our church, they would anyway. There was communication always. There was never, we'd go in and turn on all the lights in the temple on Saturdays and turn them off on Saturdays and
(I) So this is rather distressing?
(N) Yes. I never expected it. And the other thing is that it is becoming increasingly isolated. When we first moved, there were other than Jewish families but now what is left is largely middle aged people who don't have children at home anymore and the Orthodox families. (inaudible)
(I) Thank you Mrs. Santiago for your time. I will continue on the reverse side interviewing Mr. Santiago. (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) I am speaking with Mr. Santiago. Mr. Santiago, when and why did you come to Teaneck?
(N) We came to Teaneck in 1974. The reasons that we came to Teaneck were that we had decided that we wanted to leave Manhattan. Our rent had gone up where we had lived and we said, gee, paying rent really doesn't make a lot of sense. And that for the amount of money that we were about to pay, that a house made sense. We were both working and paying a lot of taxes and decided to be very responsible and get a home. We had, and then we started looking in Upper Montclair, New Jersey and we had several months previously met a young couple like ourselves that had a house and it was to our amazement. You mean you have a house? It just kind of stayed with us and all of a sudden, wee just became involved. So we looked in Upper Montclair and found that the houses were really just way out of our ballpark. Too expensive, the taxes in Essex County were just tremendously high. And we said, well gee, we can't afford that. And I was looking in the newspaper, we saw the town, Teaneck, and saw a bunch of listings. I said, I've heard about this place. I had dinner at the Carriage House a number of years before probably in the 60s and I said, it sounded like a nice town. And we, with very limited information, came to see Teaneck. We went to a broker. The broker was very open with us. He said, you know, this is Teaneck. What is was about. And what kind of town it was and so forth. When it was settled. That it was integrated which was important to us. The schools were very good. And he showed us a variety of homes in different areas.
(I) He wasn't steering you anywhere?
(N) No. And told us pretty much if we wanted to live in the whatever quadrant of Teaneck we wanted to live, it was fine. The houses in the West Englewood area were just above our price range. Essentially we felt that those were just too expensive and we decided we wanted to live in a balanced community. We lived that way in Manhattan so there really wasn't any different type of experience. So (inaudible) and basically looked a lot like Manhattan.
(I) Yeah. I think there is the same mixture. I think people from Manhattan feel comfortable here. I mean that is my impression. Your wife said you did some work at your church that there was a group that the former pastor had formed and you had
(N) Bob Chase? Bob Chase was the minister of our church and he was the first member of the clergy I met that was younger than I so that that was very, it impressed me a lot. Usually they were always older than me and all-knowing and the whole aura of what clergy is about. Bob was open, free. He was very gifted and very talented and it just showed. He didn't need any kind of (inaudible). Bob was just a very gifted person. And he got me into a program that was run out of Willowbrook, Willowbrook Ministries, which was dealing with kids of broken homes. From the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey. And basically we had a retreat at the Willowbrook Mall and a kind of consciousness raising, very interesting. I was in Puerto Rico on assignment and came back here for that weekend and then promptly went back to Puerto Rico on Sunday evening just to participate in this program.
(I) I think your wife told me that he also had some group of people from various religions working together at one time.
(N) He tried to bring the church together insofar, which was a different program that I participated in also. And he was concerned about different demographic groups within the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck which according to Bob and from what I've seen pretty much showed the most involvement of all different types of people in worship service at local on a Sunday morning than any other church within Bergen County. The profile was a very open church, a church of different peoples in a sense gathering for worship. And he was concerned that at 11:00 o'clock that happened on a Sunday; but it really didn't happen throughout the week. So that there really wasn't the sharing. The sharing was just an hour or an hour and a half on Sunday and it felt very good but the fact that our church could share more than any other church basically because of the diverse demographics and that he wanted to extend that with a lot of frustration because it turned out that the social he tried to build a social kind of people gathering in other people's houses and it didn't work.
(I) It didn't? What happened, do you know?
(N) A number of interplays. There were economics; there were age group differences, generation gaps; there were cultural differences; there were just religious differences insofar as people were very much into Presbyterianism and those few people who were just not that much and it didn't matter so that there was, as much as he tried, it didn't seem to work. His cut was to try to bring the age groups together so that essentially he tried at one point to bring everybody together and then decided on focusing on the younger people and essentially encouraged the youth participation in the church. That didn't work either. The young people I am talking about are basically late 20s or 30s and the interest wasn't very good. We were building big houses, paying for those houses, buying appliances, deciding on having children. There were a lot of things that you go through in your late 20s and early 30s which, you know, you are really not into consciousness raising and doing all the other things that you would have done in the university or probably the things that I have now in my late thirties and I have enough time to do so that I think it was a bad period. I think that there were people in their late twenties and early thirties that didn't have time for that.
(I) Was there any discussion, for example, about politics in this group. I mean about the Viet Nam War or anything or was it during that time?
(N) No, it was in 1977/78. I mean Bob was definitely a I mean he was younger so that he was young to that era. I think Bob lacked a sense of struggle. Or what struggle is about. And he lived with the fact that he knew he was brought up in a very privileged home and had essentially had a very good upper middle class experience growing up.
(I) Do you think that bothered him?
(N) I think it did. I think he had a lot of sensitivities and within his ministry that he was really questioning and struggling with his own sense of not knowing of what deprivation was about. All of the kinds of things that people do to other people that really are really terrific.
(I) Do you think there is much deprivation in Teaneck? Do you think there are really many poor people except maybe a few elderly people I think who are rather, you know, I've seen women who talked about how they wondered if they could stay in their houses with taxes going up. I think they are having a hard time. But do you think there is much poverty in Teaneck?
(N) I don't know. I really don't. Around this area, there is absolutely no poverty based on and that's just physical
(I) Around here this is a particularly sort of richish sort o£ neighborhood.
(N) Most of the people here are, it is decidedly an upper income neighborhood and most people are essentially. . and that in a way is, there are a lot of people who are individuals. There isn't a sense of community on this block.
(I) Your wife was telling me about that.
(N) And in that way it is very much like Manhattan. In Manhattan we lived in an apartment building and you really didn't get to know your, I mean you knew maybe your neighbor next door or that kind of thing but there really wasn't a social pressure to share with them in your home or that kind of thing. You paid your rent, they paid their rent; you had your things, they had their things. If they gave a party because of you all shared a common wall, that there was a kind of thing of saying, hey, I am going to have people over or I am going to do this and I hope that this doesn't bother you so that there is very limited sense of community in that apartment building and this particular block, as affluent as it seems, is very poor in aspects of community. Unless you're Orthodox. And the Orthodox Jewish community seems to have toward the non-Orthodox, including Reformed and Conservative Jewish sects, along with myself as a Christian looking at it and saying that they seem to have community. There seems to be a closeness about them. And a coming together insofar as within their own religion. And that probably is the only group from what I can see that really has a (inaudible) time.
(I) Did you want to talk to me about, your wife talked to me about how happy she was with the schools. Is there anything you'd like to add to that? How marvelous they have been for the children.
(N) What I found within the schools is that I haven't felt the
need for going to private school but I feel that the education that is being given to them is enough that I know that she is really pretty much, if not on the same level as other young students in the fourth grade for example, then she is a little ahead. But pretty much that is the benefit of the school system. I don't feel that she is losing by being involved in the system. I feel it is a good system and essentially if I didn't feel it was a good system, she would be in a private school. And we are very thankful. that we have those kinds of choices. Because if the system wasn't there, then we could (inaudible) Teaneck is a very safe environment. It is a good area to raise children. The educational system is there. The physical security is there. We are both very free. I have no fear letting them wander around the block. For example, when we tried to live in Manhattan again briefly in 77 and 78, we found that we were uncomfortable. We were afraid of heights that maybe my daughter would fall from the window and sort of that Superman theory so that the safety factor was a very important factor. Now we also look at it on the other side which is the idea that there is no community. And that's probably been the hurting point because we really haven't seen that.
(I) Well that may be in this particular neighborhood. There are other places where I think, in Teaneck, there are many
(N) We just decided on a neighborhood and looking at it from my point of view is that just the financing of houses is so prohibitive so that deciding on going back to the market and deciding on a new community which would essentially give me a plus, a basis of a community where I really felt that if there were children out there that they could deal with, OK, I'd still have to look at that very negatively from an economic point of view. Essentially all it does is increase cash flow requirements. I mean so more money has to come into a household to pay a higher mortgage because all the money is really not (inaudible) so it is all kind of like funny money. You know, a $50,000 house costs $250,000. It is just ridiculous. You really don't make anything on it; it is really all inflated dollars. You really have to feel that Teaneck is really, it is a good alternative to Manhattan.
(I) It is really. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
(N) Not unless you have any other questions.
(I) No, it is about Teaneck you know. The sort of people who are in Teaneck and what they think of it and so on and so forth. And how you found Teaneck and what you think about it.
(N) I know the mayor. I know Bernie Brooks. I met him professionally. I feel the town is extremely well run. I think the times that I have gone to council meetings and I went to council meetings initially and then just didn't go to them, professionally my Monday nights were (inaudible) I think Teaneck gives you an opportunity for a voice. I mean if somebody came out and felt they had no voice, you could see the government work. And Schmid is a very good city manager. I am very, very comfortable with the way they run the town. I read the reports that come out. I think that when the opportunity has come for community dialogue, that they have been more than forthcoming in trying to involve a large number of people who have every opportunity to be involved.
(I) Well they get involved, people in Teaneck do. If you have ever been down there when they are having one of their rows, you know they are involved. They speak their mind.
(N) And I think it is good. It is better than any other town I've known.
(I) I like the quality of the people who are here. I am not supposed to be talking like this. Thank you very much. After I thought we'd finished, we had a short conversation and Mr. Santiago is now going to talk to you about a dialogue between his church and the Reformed Church.
(N) We had a, Bob Chase who is minister of the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck, decided to go into a dialogue with the Reformed Temple in Teaneck who is headed by Rabbi Siegel and essentially that called for a series of meetings of which I think there were four where members of our congregation would meet with members of the other congregation at houses of each of the parishioners and talk about some of the mystiques, some of the folk lores, some of the traditions of what each were about. And it was very meaningful because it kind of alerted us to a lot of things that we really didn't know. Interestingly enough, we were all caught up with educated people but I knew very, very little about Judaism and have Jewish friends and the topic had never gotten on to religion and probably it was because maybe they were just hesitant about opening it up or I was but it was never, it was just left unsaid. So this was an opportunity to really probe what they were about. What were their feelings and also on their part, they kind of were curious about Christian beliefs and what our expectations were, how we saw them, what we thought about them and vice versa. And it was very meaningful. I really came away from the meetings with a sense of appreciation.
(I) Well how did they see it?
(N) They pretty much felt that Christians thought the Jews were much more religious than they actually were. I mean essentially they felt there was labeling and they pretty much set that aside and said, no, that essentially the religious issue of Judaism as an (admisity) as opposed to a religion and said that you had people who were secular and non secular. Unfortunately Christians always jumped at the fact that Jews were very, very religious. So that was one kind of thing that just kind of flew out. Then there were discussions of Reformed, Conservative and Orthodox and pretty much their sharing what problems they had within the community. What their fears of the Orthodox were. And how the fact of within the town and how difficult it was for Jews to essentially air grievances within the "family". That they were much more fearful of the Orthodox by the nature of their just being a closed community, essentially driving other people out. And I thought that was a very good thing. I was very, very surprised at that level of sharing. From a Christian point of view, they knew much more about the Christian religion
(I) They did really?
(N) What their practices were and what the cultural facts were. Essentially it shouldn't have surprised us because they are a minority group and essentially, the minority groups always know the ways of the majority. The first time I had ever experienced anything like that. Again, it was pretty much the talents of Bob Chase who had a very interesting ministry. He still lives in Teaneck.
(I) What is he doing now?
(N) He is doing some things in theater, ministry in theater, and he is just an experimental, he is dealing with experimental ministries. Ministries which need to be explored. Different types of things. Not your standard Old Testament, New Testament. . teachings made real, Bob was very religious insofar as spiritually what he thought. There was a lot of stuff I didn't, . . you know Bob would just like kind of go off to the Himalayas and leave us all behind but he was interesting. Very different.
(I) Thank you again.