This cartoon was inspired by something I read on Monroe. Marilyn. I admit that for many, many years I didn’t know who Marilyn Monroe is, and I thought that in the popular psyche “Monroe” referred to the Holy Shtetl of Satmar, my hometown. When I gave my address and said I lived in Monroe, I would often be asked “spelled as in, Monroe?” and I would say “of course!”. Why wouldn’t it be spelled as itself? Whoever was on the other telephone surely knew that Monroe meant the headquarters of Judaism! As the Bais Rochel principal Mrs. Fruchthandlerovitz* said, Monroe was the last place where true Jews still really flourished, the sum of what rich Jewish history has dwindled down to. I remember sitting in the first row in the classroom, looking up to the principal’s small stature as she clutched Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum’s treatise on zionism and described how big the world population is and how small true Judaism is in relation. I listened with fascination of our significance, processing our enormous responsibility to our religion, our heritage. Monroe was all that God had; all our ancestors looked down to us to keep it alive. Monroe was the Jews’ last hope! Monroe was the epitome of sacredness and holiness!
Why, let lady Monroe come forward and demonstrate all that!
That the cloistered and pious Satmar shtetl shares a name with the blonde bombshell is as ironic as the proposition that “Satmar” was named after the Saint Mary. You must appreciate the paradox of the names and the radical opposites for which they stand for. But those aren’t the actual etymologies. Satmar is not named after Saint Mary and Monroe is not named after Marilyn; the town in Orange County is named after the fifth president James Monroe, a seemingly rather bland individual who had nothing interesting to say about Zionism. Still, Kiryas Joel – Monroe is a fascinating part of America, and I think, as much worth a trip-to as the Amish shtetl, who have nothing on the Satmar shtetl’s glamorous name.
*name changed to protect my identity and my own ass.