I recently received a link to an article posted on NJ.com with the provocative headline, “Bad News for Christie: America Doesn’t Like New Jersey.” (http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2015/07/bad_news_for_christie_america_doesnt_like_new_jersey.html)
The salient points in the article: “The Garden State is the only state in the country that more people said they don't like than do like, according to YouGov's recent survey, which says 40 percent of people have an unfavorable opinion of the state while only 30 percent have a favorable one….According to the Washington Post, 51 percent of Republicans view New Jersey unfavorably with only 22 percent having a favorable opinion.”
And this is news? New Jersey is probably the most denigrated state in the Union and the punch line of innumerable jokes. (“First prize is one week in New Jersey; second prize is two weeks.” “Dump the garbage in New Jersey. No one will notice the smell.”)
Where else can one live within forty minutes from five large malls (I’m within fifteen minutes from three of them – too bad I hate shopping in general and malls in particular); ten minutes from fresh produce you can buy from the back of a farm truck; sixty minutes from the Shore – the nice part; thirty minutes from Philadelphia; two hours from Manhattan; ninety minutes from Cape May; ten minutes from several twenty-four-hour diners; a few minutes from some of the cheapest gas prices in the country (and no self-service allowed); and no minutes from terrific bird watching (I just look out the windows into my backyard)?
I doubt if I could have made that statement if I didn’t live in Philadelphia, NJ, rather than New York, NJ. South and North Jersey are different states, identified primarily by the sports teams the residents support.
When you ask people to describe New Jersey, most will list attributes which are true for North Jersey: the Sopranos; the Real Housewives of NJ; the Jersey Shore, the show, not the real thing, which is in both North and South Jersey; big hair; Newark Airport; Newark; Trenton; Janet Evanovich, who lives in NH; Bruce Springsteen; Asbury Park; the highest density population in the US; high taxes; high real estate prices; high cost of living; Jimmy Hoffa’s grave under the end zone in the Meadowlands, probably an urban myth, but plausible.
South Jersey has “qualities” it shares with North Jersey: the Garden State Parkway, where you do feel as though you are parked; high taxes, but not as high as in North Jersey; traffic jams, but no George Washington Bridge debacle; malls; discount stores; the ugliest Turnpike in the Boston-D.C. corridor. And we’re the site of Camden, known as the “murder capital of America.”
But those negatives are outweighed by the advantages to be found only in South Jersey: the Pine Barrens, over one million acres of preserved land containing rare and endangered plants and wildlife, sitting on top of one trillion gallons of pure water; the best birding spots anywhere; Cape May, where many of those birding spots are located; the Cape May-Lewes Ferry; the Delaware Bay Shore; Jewish chicken farmers; sugar sand roads; salt water taffy, which may be available, but we had it first; a major bridge named for poet Walt Whitman, who is buried in Camden; wineries; cranberries right from the bogs; corn right from the fields; pick-your-own blueberries; the Jersey Devil, the only official state demon in the US; Steven Spielberg, Bruce Willis, and Michael Landon.
Years ago there was a movement to encourage South Jersey to secede from North Jersey. I don’t know what happened, but the idea seems to have lost momentum. It may be time to revive the concept.
There are some areas of northwest New Jersey, in the mountains it shares with New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the corridor along the Delaware River from Washington Crossing north that rival South Jersey for rural calm and beautiful scenery. Therefore, instead of drawing a line across the state to separate north from south, I would carve out a semicircle surrounding New York City. It's that part of the state which gives New Jersey its negative image. With one swipe of a pen, we could get rid of the area that makes New Jersey the most densely populated state in the country. We wouldn't have to take it personally when sitcoms make jokes about big hair mall rats and Mafia strongholds. We wouldn't become defensive when people say disdainfully, "You live in New Jersey – voluntarily?" We could proudly point to the gardens that give New Jersey its identity as “The Garden State.” We'd no longer have to explain that we come from Philadelphia, New Jersey, but could proudly say, "New Jersey."
And, in the meantime, I’ll continue to set my mystery novels in New Jersey. The Pine Barrens offer terrific hiding places for dead bodies. To find out how terrific it is, I will email a copy of my new short story “Peanut Butter and Glitter,” which features a dead body and the Pine Barrens, to the first five people who leave a comment.
In addition to ordination, she has earned a few degrees over the years, all in different disciplines and none worth much in the market place. (BA in Publication from Simmons; M.Ed. in Psychoeducational Processes from Temple; Ed.D. in Foundations of Ed. from Temple; honorary D.D. from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College for surviving 25 years in the rabbinate).
In her spare time (which she finds by never cleaning the house), she’s a birder and gardener, although her garden’s almost as much of a mess as her house. She believes in benign neglect: she plants it; if it comes up, great; if it doesn’t, she tries something else. She lets nature do the watering, which is why everything in the flower boxes is dead, and refers to the weeds as “wild flowers and decorative grasses.” When the weather’s nice enough to garden, she’s more apt to be birding.
Unlike her protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, Ilene has been married to the same man since 1976, and has two “millennial” sons, making her part of the trendy group of “older” parents.
(all info provided by author)