By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO June 1, 2001 She was called kind and good, yet she was teased for her scolding tongue and take-no-punches demeanor.
She was praised for her fortitude during moments of severe personal tragedy, but people laughed heartily upon hearing the tale of her ability to unintentionally stop traffic in the middle of Monticello.
Add some food and anecdotes about a female impersonator who needed his (or her?) sequined dress repaired, and youve got the makings of one tremendously varied evening of laughs and tears (and sometimes both).
And it all had to do with one person, a lady from Woodridge who is considered one of the guiding lights of Judaism in Sullivan County.
It seemed all of Woodridge and Monticello turned out Saturday evening to honor Ann Annie Proyect at Temple Sholom, but the capacity of the standing-room-only sanctuary was likelier somewhere between 100 and 200 people.
And it was evident by the smiles, laughter, hugs and good-natured joking that this is a woman beloved by her spiritual and residential communities.
Proyect has been a fixture of the Woodridge and Monticello areas since she moved here from Kansas City, Missouri at the age of 26 in the first half of the 20th century. And it seems she has since made quite an impact.
Growing up in Mountaindale, I, of course, knew Annie by name and sight, recalled County Legislator Leni Binder at the dinner. I can honestly say that, without her help, I would probably not be a legislator today. Im still not sure if that deserves a thank-you or not, but she stood in the snow in front of the village hall, sometimes too close to be legal, and sang my praises. It is a privilege to be able to sing hers.
Annie has given me and my family an entré for coming back to this community. She is as much a member of my family as my own, said James Oppenheim, a fellow member of Temple Sholom. She tells it like it is over and over and over . . . and everyone here loves her for it. She doesnt just tell you what to do . . . she gets up and does it.
She exemplifies what it is to be a Jew.
Proyects faith and vigorously stated opinions whether through phone conversations, in person at the temple, or her weekly column in the Sullivan County Democrat, Annie Proyect Says were indeed an integral reason why she was being celebrated.
Id say the wall-to-wall turnout tonight is an affirmation and confirmation of the power of the Fourth Estate. I wouldnt want to be known as one who wasnt here! remarked Temple Sholom Past President Joe Cohen, who then turned to Proyect. We only roast the people we love. Were honoring you for what you are and what you do for yourself, your family and your community.
Shes the one who brings kindness and good cheer every day of the week, added Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum.
Ann consumed Judaism with a passion, commented another past president of the temple, Marty Schwartz. The Ten Commandments became the guiding principles by which she chose to conduct herself, expecting no less from those around her.
Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he added, At one point, Im told she even lobbied the UAHC [a Jewish religious organization] to adopt two more commandments: #11. Do as I tell you! and #12. Why didnt you do as I told you?
Persistent in her pursuit of learning, consistent in her morality, resistant to her critics and insistent on being heard Ann, we would have you no other way, he concluded.
Proyects son, Louis, recalled a time when his family lived above the Kentucky Club in Woodridge, a nightclub which featured the Jewel Box Revue a troupe of female impersonators. One night, he came home to find his mother sewing up a sequined outfit of one of the performers.
The message I interpreted was that we should be tolerant of one another, he said.
Said her dear friend, Victor Gordon: Believe it or not, it was her idea to honor an outstanding member of the temple for their efforts. Little did she dream when this thought became a reality that she would be the one so honored.
Dont cry, Ann, he added. Everyone here loves you, and you deserve your moment in the sun. The temple is very fortunate and proud to have you as such a dedicated member.
The compliments, thank-yous and fond notes were continued in a journal that listed a veritable whos who of the local area. State Senator John Bonacic and Assemblyman Jake Gunther, while not present, also sent certificates of merit to Proyect.
But, of course, Proyect herself made sure to thank the crowd for their words, gifts and attendance and give them due warning.
We have an obligation as a Jew to be a light unto the nations to show a better way, she said, using a verse from the Bible to explain her passionate stance on many issues of faith. If peoples feelings are hurt, well, they love me and theyll get over it and Ill do it again.
I cant thank you enough, she concluded, but watch my next column!