July 26, 2015

America Doesn’t Like New Jersey?- Rabbi Ilene Schneider Disputes!

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.”)

I have lived almost half my life in New Jersey. And I love it here.  

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. 
Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D. has finally decided what (or who) she wants to be when she grows up. (She lives by the t-shirt logo: “I may grow older, but I’ll never grow up.”) In her current incarnation, she is now devoting full-time to writing, having recently retired as Coordinator of Jewish Hospice and spiritual support counselor for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia. She was one of the first 6 women ordained as a rabbi in the US, back in 1976.
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)


  1. Being a native New Yorker, I appreciated an old Saturday Night Live skit where Fred Armisen playing former Gov. David Patterson was asked what he had against NewJersey, and he responded "Unfortunately, a southern border!" All I knew of NJ growing up was that little semi-circle arounf NYC, the part that was scary and smelled. And, yes, when my husband announced earlier this year that we would be moving to "Jersey.....", I admit my heart sunk a little. But..... I love it! We're tucked into a little corner of a treasure of a state, with bears walking across our lawn, and giant turkey encounters on the front porch, and huge old-growth pine trees surrounding our house. The lakes, the hills..... I never knew. And, I'm a little ashamed of that.
    Wonderful article. Thank you.

  2. Having gone to college in New Jersey (Princeton), I can honestly say that it has beautiful areas and of course great educational opportunities. Sadly, it also has some cities in terrible need of revitalization and industrial plants in need of pollution control. What people forget it that New Jersey for a long time gave more to this country than it ever took, and it is past time that some of the needed cleanup and revitalization take place to once again make her as lovely a place to live as any. It doesn't help, by the way, that New Yorkers so often consider Joisy as their dump.

  3. I enjoyed this witty post. It is unfortunate that New Jersey has become the butt of many jokes and distastes, but I can only wonder what it would feel like being on the outside looking in. How about an answer to this question: why is our opinion unfavorable and yet we are the most densely populated state in America? That is where our love comes from!

    I enjoyed reading this! Great job as always, Mrs. Schneider!

  4. Hi Eileen, witty as always... But as someone who grew up in the circle defined by your pen... not so fast... It is true the old Pharmaceutical plants and slaughter houses along the Turnpike smell(ed)that bad or worse. But they are balanced by having access to Rutt's Hut and the Tick Tock Diner; the original Paramus Malls (I too hate shopping, but for those who love it Bloomingdales and Tiffany, really); and I too grew up eating corn, tomatoes, berries picked just 5 minutes away, when not grown in the back yard. And today's city living? Even Hoboken, subject of many of those jokes has apartments, condos and wedding venues with a view straight east over the Hudson to bring glory to any morning... or evening. So I'd say we should keep it all from urban center to Delaware Water (which is actually a Wind) Gap to the Pine Barrons to Cape May... a place of beauty and a joy forever if climate change doesn't submerge us all...

  5. Nice tribute, Eileen. I've had some good times in New Jersey and the jokes about the state (as is the case with Pennsylvania's Scranton) usually come from people who've never visited. The Pine Barrens and Cape May alone are worth more than the attributes some other states brag about.

  6. Oy Vey, someone who likes NJ as much as my daughter, who won't leave. I left at Warp 10 when I retired from state government 13 years ago, and that probably explains it all. Yes there are lovely areas in the NW and SE of the state, but then there is the rest. I have gotten lost in Camden, happy to have made it out without getting killed. I have gotten lost in the Lebanon State Forest in the Pine Barrens until those lovely golden arches suddenly rose from the pine trees and saved me.
    I lived in the middle of the state between Freehold and Princeton, or as those who live in the state say, Exit 8 on the Turnpike. Worked all over, though. Yes the big hair and Mafia is alive and well in east central NJ along the shore. Yes Atlantic City is an abomination, although not as much as Camden.
    As for the secession threat, they just couldn't figure out what to do with Trenton, the state capital, as it sat on the Mason Dixon line of NJ. There is a huge difference in the north and south, even the speech is different. As a die-hard born and bred New Yorker, I have always connected with North Jersey.
    Thank you for a fun trip down memory lane, however I think it's one 32 year memory I try to forget.

  7. I have been to the Jersey Shore which is incomparable and makes me feel so good. It is soothing, and real. I adore your books and would greatly appreciate receiving this wonderful offer from a talented author. Being Jewish your books brought me much pleasure and enjoyment.

  8. AnonymousJuly 26, 2015

    Ilene, I can relate. I always have to issue a caveat when I tell people I'm from New Jersey--it's South Jersey, which is a world away from North Jersey. North Jersey has some gorgeous places, but it doesn't have that more rural feel that South Jersey can exude. Thanks for the fun post!

  9. Ilene, this was a charming as your books! My father's family was from northern NJ and as a child we traveled frequently from our Long Island home to visit his different and many sisters. I thought it was a different world! Now I make sure I stop in Hawthorne to see my cousins whenever I leave NC for a book tour.

  10. Thanks for all the comments. I enjoyed reading them. I've decided to send each of you a copy of my new short story. Caveat: It's a stand-alone and doesn't feature the protagonist Rabbi Aviva Cohen nor any of the other characters in my books. It doesn't even have a Jewish theme. I wrote it as a revenge fantasy to cheer up a friend who is going through a nasty divorce. Similar to my award-winning (I love saying that!) short story, "Miami Snow," it has more than a smidgeon of dark humor. Send your email address to me at rabbi.author@yahoo.com and I'll send you the story. Please indicate if you prefer .doc or .docx.

  11. Thanks for sharing. I used to live in NJ--West Milford. I remember all the SNL jokes about the state. LOL Also, I remember how we used to scare each other with stories about the Jersey Devil.

  12. Enjoyed your post, Rabbi Ilene! As one who has resided in South Jersey most of my life, I share your love for our wonderful state. When my husband and I lived in the Midwest, one person actually asked me if New Jersey has trees! :) I explained that the Garden State not only has hundreds of acres of beautiful trees, but also the most gorgeous beaches in the United States.

    There’s one important feature of New Jersey you forgot to mention: New Jersey has the South Jersey Women Authors (SJWA), a great group of women writers who add charm, wit, laughter, and close friendships, not to mention wonderful stories, to the great state that is New Jersey!



  13. I used to think the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, hence the name of my blog, www.GreenerPastures--ACityGirlGoesCountry.blogspot.com, and left New Jersey for Oklahoma, where I found out Yankee is not a baseball team. When we couldn't take being ostracized and discriminated against anymore, we tried Virginia, figuring it was on the East coast, it would be more open-minded and kind. Ahnt! That's a buzzer. Finally, after giving it a good try for ten years all together, we hightailed it back to Jersey. A lot of people leave here because they buy the load of goods that we bought that Jersey stinks, literally and figuratively, but my theory is most of them would come back if they could. They won't tell you that because they are trying to be positive and make the best of it like we did (I actually called the wind in Oklahoma a "welcome breeze when it's hot"), but unless you are lucky or wealthy, it's very difficult to move from a cheaper area to a more expensive area, especially without jobs. We got lucky because we bought a couple of fixer-upper houses and had some equity. Most people don't, after they move to Florida or North Carolina. It's been almost four years now and we are living a better quality of life than we were in either Oklahoma or Virginia. We are in South Jersey now, but we've lived all over the state previously. I started out in Jersey City (don't bash North Jersey either! There's a lot of great things about the north too!), moved "down-the-shore", lived in Central Jersey, and everywhere in between and it's all great. We have cities and mountains and beaches and farms. There is something for everyone here. I live on a farm right now, surrounded by Italian vegetable farmers and horse farms and it's dead quiet as I write this. All I hear are the birds. But it is a hop, skip and a jump to Philly or the beach or the mall, if you are so inclined to shop. Like you, I'm not. But I can if I want to! There are museums and libraries and don't get me started on the places to eat. Best of all, the people are nice. Though we didn't know a soul when we came to this part of the state, the people have welcomed us with open arms and I am stuck here now because my daughter would never leave this loving community, even if I wanted to. I'm not saying everyone is nice. But in Jersey, you know who likes you and who doesn't like you because they will come right out and tell you--they're honest here--and not simply smile in your face and say "Bless your heart," and then refuse to do business with you because you have an Obama sign on your lawn. In fact, you can have a knock-out, drag-down fight with your neighbor over politics here and then still be friends when you're done because Jersey is tolerant of all kinds of people with all kinds of views. The ONLY thing that stinks about New Jersey is the traffic and property taxes but even with that, we are living better because we get more work here. When I see traffic now, I think "work! money!" We're kinder to animals here, we care about the environment (look at all the solar!), the school systems are better, you can get a pizza delivered, and we have Bruce Springsteen! I am grateful to be back home.

  14. Thank you for the interesting post.I live in Delaware and am very familiar with NJ. In fact, I met my Philly-bred husband in Margate. My family always went to the Jersey Shore when I was growing up. Jersey corn and tomatoes are the best. It's a great state.


Follow 50 Authors from 50 States blog for the latest