Hanukkah lights a candle on this Montclair friendship every year
When Jessica Schachter walked into her classroom at Watchung Elementary School in September of 1977, she met Brian Fleischer. At the time the two first graders bonded over many things that first graders are obsessed with, like the USS Ling submarine where Schachter held her seventh birthday party, or the roller rink, the United Skates of America.
But the one bond that kept the two friends for the last 45 years was their culture. “He was funny, smart and Jewish,” Schachter said. “All like me.”
For the last 17 years, the pair has made it a point to see each other at Schachter’s sister annual holiday party, which usually takes place on or right before Hanukkah begins. As part of their tradition, they attempt to recreate the first photo that the they took together at her birthday party on the USS Ling submarine.
“I put the current picture next to the seventh-birthday picture just to show we're buddies,” she said. “We've got each other's back forever.”
Though they didn’t attend the same middle school, they kept in contact at Hebrew school on Wednesdays after school. They celebrated each other's bar and bat mitzvahs and attended services at their temple on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.
“Our Judaism really bonded us,” Schachter said.
Both Shachter and Fleischer moved to Montclair when they were young and grew up in Orthodox Jewish homes. Fleischer’s family is one of the founding families of the local synagogue, Bnai Keshet.
“We did eat kosher inside our house growing up in Montclair, which was unusual,” Fleischer said. Though his family made sure to eat kosher in the home, they often frequented non-kosher restaurants in town, with Schachter occasionally in tow.
“We've been going to Mr. Dino’s every week as a family since the ’80s,” Fleischer said. “But, we can never order pizza in or order anything in because we are pretty strictly kosher inside the house.”
Fleischer and Schachter graduated from Montclair High School in 1989 and have remained close.
Now both Schachter and Fleischer are instilling their love and respect for their religion into their children, who also share similarities. They both have kids who are attending Hebrew school together; they even have daughters who were born a day apart.
Alongside their families, they both attend Temple Sholom in Cedar Grove and have even crossed career paths more than once. The Montclair residents are both attorneys and served as co-presidents on Glenfield Middle School’s PTA last year.
When Schachter looks back on the longstanding friendship, she said, only one word comes to mind: mishpachah, which is the Hebrew word for family. “Brian's mishpachah,” she said.
“He's family, he’s part of my collective Jewish community, family.”
As the years go by, communication between the two might not be a daily routine as Fleischer prepares for his role as a new member of the Montclair Board of Education and Schachter takes on one of her several roles in supporting community activism. But they know they can always count on their faith to bring them together.
“There are just lots of opportunities for us to see each other, on the holidays and in synagogue,” Fleischer said.
As those in the Jewish community celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah, there is still an ominous haze as a result of the antisemitic attacks that have not only taken place across the country, but in Montclair. It’s times like these that the friends find themselves leaning on each other for support, Fleischer said.
“Given everything that's going on in the world these days, I think for Jessica and for myself being public about our Jewish identity and Jewish pride when, societally and locally, we're seeing incidents of antisemitism, it's important,” Fleischer said. “It's important for us to share our pride in our heritage and our community and how we work together to fight all types of discrimination and hatred.”