2017-08-16 / Voice at the Shore

Beth El dinner honors Jane Stark, a trailblazer for Holocaust survivors and women

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


JANE STARK JANE STARK “I was going to write the next great American novel, but I didn’t; instead, I just lived one, like we all have!”

So says Jane Stark, a 74- year-old community leader who blazed a trail by bringing the stories of Holocaust survivors into the light, helping to create Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center, and changing the lives of so many local Holocaust survivors for the better.

Stark, a writer who spent 21 years as general manager for the local news station NBC TV 40, also blazed a trail for women of her time through her many professional accomplishments. Her devotion to community service has been widely recognized and provides an inspirational role model for all.

Stark will be honored with Beth El Synagogue’s 2017 Distinguished Leadership Award at a dinner at the synagogue on Thursday, August 31, starting at 6 p.m.

“Jane is very special,” said Beth El’s Rabbi Aaron Krauss. “She is a leader who sets an example for others. She has changed many people’s lives. I’m very proud of her.”

Only reluctantly did Stark agree to be honoree for Beth El’s annual dinner, a major fundraiser for the synagogue. Yet knowing that Rabbi Krauss wanted her to be honored, Stark said she couldn’t say no.

“Rabbi Krauss has been the most wonderful human being in this world. He’s like a sage!” she said.

Krauss and Stark have long shared a deep commitment to helping local Holocaust survivors, most of whom belonged to Beth El, explained Stark, who has been a member of Beth El for the past 25 years.

Her work with the local survivor community began quite unexpectedly in 1985, a few years after she began her job at NBC TV 40. A community member, Marcia Grossman, called Stark and asked her if the TV station would be interested in recording oral histories of Holocaust survivors. Although commonplace now, doing such oral histories was then something new. “This was way before ‘Schindler’s List,’” Stark noted.

Born in 1943, Stark learned plenty about World War II in school but nothing about the Holocaust. Having grown up in small towns with few Jews in Western Pennsylvania, she had never even heard the word “Holocaust” until she was horrified to read about it as a teenager in the Leon Uris novel Mila 18.

Stark immediately saw the importance of Grossman’s oral history project. “It was a commitment to those we lost.”

She convinced her boss to get the TV station involved, despite the fact that there was no money in it. “The TV station did it as a public service. We created a studio environment, a time and a space, and began doing oral histories.”

“At that time, there were a lot of survivors here,” she noted. Yet they didn’t know what to make of the oral history project at first. “It was a big job getting the survivors to participate, to understand that they were not being exploited. It wasn’t until “Schindler’s List” came out [in 1993] that our work gained credibility.”

Stark received special training from Dartmouth College to conduct the interviews. Yet there were many moments in the journey that followed that she never could have anticipated— such as when adult children of survivors were in the control room watching their parents being interviewed, and found out for the first time what their parents had gone through.

Stark also never anticipated how helping survivors tell stories long buried in silence would forever change not only their lives, but also hers. An intimate bond of caring developed between her and those she interviewed. “They needed to know in their hearts and souls that someone cared about what happened to them.”

The survivor community ultimately became part of her family. Stark’s granddaughter, now 21, grew up thinking of local survivors as her aunts and uncles. “The first time she heard someone called a “survivor” on TV, she said to me: ‘Nana, that’s one of our people!’”

Stark’s work with the oral history project also led her to join forces with Grossman and others to establish Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center in 1990.

“It was a journey of the heart,” said Stark of her deep involvement with the local survivor community. “When they pass away, it’s like part of my heart is lost.”

Stark is also known for her many “firsts” as a woman. She was one of the first women to be inducted into the Atlantic County Women’s Hall of Fame when it began in 1996. She was also the first female member of Atlantic City Rotary, and the first female member and president of Avoda, a 90-year-old Jewish service organization that offers awards to help promising local Jewish students afford college.

She has also received numerous awards for her community service work from both Jewish and secular organizations, including the Jewish Federation, the JCC, Trocki Hebrew Academy, Stockton University, the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts of America, the Salvation Army, and more.

Since 2004, Stark has served as executive director of the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage, which is now part of Stockton University. Located in a synagogue built by Jewish settlers of Woodbine more than 120 years ago, the museum is devoted to telling the stories and preserving the heritage of those settlers.

As the museum’s executive director, Stark serves as lecturer, historian and genealogist for the museum. She has also been instrumental in having the site designated as the Cape May County teaching site for Holocaust Education by the New Jersey Commission of Holocaust Education. According to Stark, more than 18,000 students and guests have met with individual survivors at the Woodbine site.

“Jane was marvelous as director of the TV station and does a marvelous job with the museum,” said Rabbi Krauss.

“She’s an incredible woman. Whatever she touches she does 100 percent,” agreed Marilyn Kessler, a long-time Beth El member who is planning the dinner to honor Stark along with dinner co-chair Paula Morris. “We are going to have a beautiful ad book, a live band, and people who will speak on Jane’s behalf,” said Kessler, adding that the kosher dinner will be catered by Greenwald Catering.

The entire community is welcome to attend the dinner honoring Jane Stark at Beth El on Thursday, August 31, which costs $100 per person. Cocktails start at 6 p.m., with dinner at 7 p.m. For more information, call Beth El at (609) 823-2725. s

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