April 24, 2024
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April 24, 2024
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Highland Park Councilwoman Susie Welkovits Remembered as a ‘Proud Jew’

Highland Park Councilwoman Susie Welkovits’s strong sense of commitment to standing up for what is right and for the Jewish community was forged growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors who fled Hungary in 1956 following the failed revolution against Soviet oppression.

“She was such a good person,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman of Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park, who performed the July 6 graveside funeral at Elmwood Cemetery in New Brunswick for Welkovits.

Welkovits died July 3 at age 59 after a several-month-long illness. Although she caught COVID-19 while hospitalized, it was wrongly reported as being the cause of death, according to Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, a close personal friend.

Rabbi Kaufman called Welkovits “a proud Jew” whose support his Orthodox shul could always count on when members called about an issue.

“Her parents survived the death camps and Communism, and her lifelong commitment to the public good was testament to them,” he said. “I knew her as a wonderful public servant who worked hard for her community. She was a defender of Israel as well as being a proud Jew.”

Welkovits, whose name was Susan Welkovits Brown but was known by all as Susie Welkovits, was born in Michigan. She grew up in Highland Park and was a graduate of Highland Park High School.

After college, Welkovits moved to New York City where she worked in finance as a client relationship project manager, returning to Highland Park after marrying her husband, Randolph Brown. Their twins, Gordon and Gabrielle, were born in 2009.

“Despite all that she did for the municipality, her children came first, “said Brill Mittler. “She was proud of her Hungarian heritage and spoke fluent Hungarian and sent her kids to learn the Hungarian language.”

Rabbi Kaufman said her parents, George and Anna, settled in Highland Park after learning they had relatives—the Gross family—living there. That family was descended from founding members of the synagogue, which began in New Brunswick in 1917 and purchased its current site across the Raritan River in 1977. George and Anna became active members of the shul.

“When they held Susie as a baby, that gave them the most joy of their lives,” said Rabbi Kaufman. “Here we had people who had every reason to feel bitter about what happened to them, and they were able to replace all the darkness they went through with goodness and light and happiness. Susie took a lot of that with her, whether it was through her work education and helping others.”

Brill Mittler first met Welkovits when she and several other parents came to her concerned about a charter school trying to establish itself in the borough.

“She was a strong proponent for education and I saw how strong she was and how much she cared about keeping our schools vibrant so when an opening for a council seat opened up I reached out to her, cajoled her and asked her if she would put her name in for the council position,” she said.

Because it was an incomplete term, Welkovits became one of three names submitted to the local Democratic committee and became its appointee in 2011. She subsequently was re-elected twice, serving as council president in 2015.

“She immediately threw herself into the work that had to be done,” noted Brill Mittler, adding that one of her passions was pedestrian and bicycle access, and Welkovits formed the borough’s Safe Walking and Cycling Committee, which has secured grants and professional assistance for safe routes in the community. She had also been working with the team looking to connect Highland Park to the Middlesex County Greenway for walking and bicycling.

Welkovits also took over as chair of the council’s Economic Development Committee and became close with downtown merchants and realtors, “leaving her mark of making our downtown more vibrant and more successful,” said Brill Mittler.

However, it was during the bitter and contentious almost year-long council fight to finally pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that her allegiance to the Jewish community and standing up for what she believed to be right shone through.

“You could just look at the video of those sessions and see how deeply, deeply it affected her very personally and left an indelible mark on her life,” said Rabbi Eliot Malomet of the Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth, who was involved in the effort to get the resolution passed. “She was a good soul who became deeply involved in any issue important to her and this community.”

Michael Gordon, an organizer of the Central Jersey Jewish Public Affairs Committee—a pro-Israel advocacy organization—also worked closely with Welkovits to ensure its passage in early March.

“She was passionate about this being wrong,” he said of those opposing inclusion of anything about the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign against Israel in the resolution. “She didn’t need long debates. She just knew that this was not right and we need to put a stop to it. She was targeted and attacked. We were tired of having to convince others it wasn’t right, but she knew right away in her gut it was wrong. She was already sick at that last council meeting but she knew it was important to vote and didn’t want to miss the vote.”

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