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MTFJC 75th Anniversary Pamphlet

 


Seventy five years ago, some visionary Jews in Mt. Freedom heard the call of which we read in this week's Torah portion of Ki Tisa, which is right smack in the middle of the five portions dealing with this topic.

Vasu li mikdash v'shachanti b'tocham - "And they shall build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in 'their midst." Like Moshe Rabeinu before them, our illustrious founders heard this call 75 years ago and responded faithfully and affirmatively.

These founders and their spiritual heirs who continue their faithful work are the subject of a mishebarach which the congregation recites each Shabbat. We ask that kol mi she'oskim b'tzarchei tibur b'emuna - HaKadosh Baruch Hu yishalem sicharam - "All those who involve themselves in the needs of the Congregation, may Ord pay their reward..." Lord knows, nobody else will! Not only is their job a non salaried, volunteer position, but more often than not the reward in this world is criticism, aggravation and frustration. But those who are moved to give of their time, energy and resources are marching to a different beat. They give in the spirit of V'natnu (and they will give), which in Hebrew is the same word whether read forward or backward. Giving is a two-way street! The giver with clear vision sees that his giving produces an automatic return. The giver is given intrinsic satisfaction in seeing his dream become reality.

Thank G-d for our visionary founders who built G-d's sanctuary here in Mt. Freedom! We owe them our gratitude, appreciation and awe, but, even more so, we owe it to them to see to it that their 75 years of giving will produce exponential dividends through our own emulation of their selfless generosity as we continue their work.

Yes, only G-d can pay them their complete due, but we are G-Dā€™s representatives tonight in demonstrating kavod, appropriate honor, heartfelt appreciation and true awe due to Mt. Freedom Jewish Center's partiarchs and matriarchs, our visionary founders, without whom we would literally not be here today.

Mazal tov and many, many happy retums!

Rabbi David B. Bateman


Dear Friends,

Mazal Tov to all of us! As President of Mt. Freedom Jewish Center, I know what a vital role this shul plays in our community. While many shuls are bigger in size and in membership, for 75 years this shul has been a nucleus for Jewish life here and has had the distinction of being the only Traditional shul in Morris County, offering its membership and the community at large a special place to gather and to pray, according to our rich heritage.

The name Mt. Freedom has a special meaning to me, and raises many associations with my past and present. As a child, while living with my family in Nazi Europe, I was deprived of my physical and religious freedom. When I joined this shul, I had a limited background in observance of Jewish laws and rituals. However, with the guiding hand of our spiritual leader, Rabbi David Bateman, I was able to accomplish much in increasing my knowledge, and in acquiring a strong set of Jewish values.

Along the way, one of the rewards of my studies was the celebration of my Bar Mitzvah, well after my 13" birthday. | am personally grateful to the shul, the Rabbi and the community, for all my accomplishments at Mt. Freedom Jewish Center.

lam proud of the history and course that we, as a community, have maintained for 75 years. 

When Howard Messer and Andy Koval approached me about doing something special for this occasion, I took the initiative of forming a committee to set forth an ambitious agenda. to ensure that this shul would be financially stable for the next 75 years.  

The future is bright and promising. Everything is moving in the right direction. As I often say, "We are truly blessed with a SUCCESSFUL JEWISH COMMUNITY AND NOT ONLY A COMMUNITY OF SUCCESSFUL JEWS".

Let me close with a sincere and heartfelt yishar kochachen to our entire Mt. Freedom Jewish Center family!

Michael Zeiger

 

 


 

The Mount Freedom Jewish Center

A Work in Progress

75th Anniversary Celebration

By Mitch Davis

"I was the first Jew born in Mount Freedom"

So claimed Herb Steinberg one night last December while the two of us sat around his kitchen table, drinking tea and looking at old photos.

"I was born right here, in Mount Freedom, on Rosh Hashanah in 1920. My Aunt Yetta Levine, she had a hotel down on Brookside Road.

It had started as a boarding house, but by the time I came along, it was a full blown hotel. It was the holiday, and the place was full, so my mother had given up her bed and was sleeping in the barn. When I was born, there wasn't time to call a doctor, so I was delivered by the veterinarian. Right here in Mount Freedom."

I figured it had to be true. You can't make this stuff up.

"Yup, I was the first Jew born in Mount Freedom.ā€

In honor of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary celebrations of the Mount Freedom Jewish Center, I decided to wander around a bit and learn some of the history of the place. Herb's story seemed like a good place to start. While the history of the Mount Freedom Jewish Center is in many ways similar to the history of the Twentieth Century generations of American Jewish immigrants, we do have a peculiar richness all our own. Unfortunately, though, because of my own limitations as a researcher and historian, I don't presume that this will resemble a comprehensive history of any kind.

Consider it instead a work in progress, a little something to jar your memories, to tell us about ourselves, to encourage us to help make some history together.

I'm told that during the early years most of the Jews in Mount Freedom were actually from someplace else, Poland and Russia mostly, via "the ghettos of New York City", as noted by Arthur Regan in his Fiftieth Anniversary Historian's Report in 1973. Each of the earliest settlers had come for his own particular reasons.

At first, they were mostly farmers, but soon because of certain unique environmental factors, the community developed into a resort.

"Did you know that Mount Freedom is the second highest point in New Jersey?" So said Lou Koval one night while I sat with him and Linda, listening to stories and eating all of Linda's lemon cookies.

"It's cool and comfortable here in the Summertime, and, of course, with no air conditioning, New York was very hot and very uncomfortable. Baruch Saltz, Linda's great-grandfather, had a job in New York City. He would travel there during the week, and sometimes on the weekend he would bring a friend back with him, to visit and get some fresh air.  The next thing you know, the family is running a boarding house."

So the second highest point in New Jersey began to emerge as a kosher hot spot, and the hotels began to develop. The hotels started on Sussex Turnpike, standing in a line starting near the intersection of Brookside: Saltz's Hotel, Tenzer's, Salnick's, The Fairmont. There was also Sain's Hotel, down Brookside, the place Herb Steinberg was born that Rosh Hashanah night.

Also down Brookside was Leiberman's, and The Pine HIll Lodge, the single's place, Ackerman's and Klode's were on Calais, where the Randolph Library stands now. And there was Messer's Farm, on the site of what is now the Harbor Hills Day Camp.

At Its height, Mount Freedom boasted a total of eleven hotels, forty-five bungalow colonies, and assorted summer camps and swim clubs, Catering primarily to the immigrants and sons and daughters of immigrants who lived in New York City, the hotels were kosher and conducted many of their own services and Seders. Everybody spoke Yiddish.

I kept eating cookies and Lou kept reminiscing. "Mount Freedom was closer to New York than the Catskills, People from the city could journey by train into Morristown, and the hotels would pick them up at the train station.

In the Summer, there might be as many as ten thousand people. The guests would walk down the street, sometimes four and five abreast, looking at the trees, picking colored leaves off the ground and holding them like orchids, picking wildflowers and holding them in their hands like precious jewels."

But it was strictly for the Summertime. It was too expensive to heat those huge buildings in Winter, and people came mostly for the cool air anyway. So, in a ritual repeated every year after the High Holidays, the water was drained from the pipes in the hotels and bungalows, and the buildings were shut down.

"In the Winter", said Lou, "the place was a ghost town."So how did the Mount Freedom Jewish

Center begin to fit in to all of this? Naturally, the families of Mount Freedom found the need, of course, to form their own congregation. They had the need to pray with a minyan, the need for a religious school, the need for a social and charitable structure, the need for a center of Jewish community life. They further had the need to fight the Winter's loneliness.

Arthur Regan, In his history of the synagogue from 1973, recounts the names of those first families in a voice reminiscent of the Book of Numbers; "the Landsleits, the Saltzs, the Liebermans, Kapners, Tenzers, Messers, Rosenfarbs, and, a little later, the Hirschhorns, the Elgartens, the Helsteins, the Zudicks, and the Cohens... These founders followed an age old and simple formula to preserve their Jewish way of life...Here in the synagogue, they could express their common religious feelings, find strength and identification with each other, and discuss their common problems and interests."

And so, In 1923, what was then known as the Hebrew Congregation of Mount Freedom was founded. The original constitution was written In Yiddish,

"At first we didn't have a building." That was Sol Messer, recounting his story one night in January as my wite Pattl and I sat with him and Toby, Patti listening intently, I stuffing myself on Toby's chocolate cake and rugaluch.

"At first, we used to daven at people's houses. Elgarten, Saltz, different people's homes. The building was constructed a few years later."

So who built the original bullding?

Lou Koval remembered. "Yes, the original building was construeted in the 1920s by Old Man Zudick."

Old Man Zudick?

"Yes, Old Man Zudick.

everybody called him. Morris Zudick's father, Old Man Zudick. He was a carpenter, and a taxi driver. I can't remember his first name, but we all called him Old Man Zudick."

Arthur Regan remembered his name:

"A building was erected on the present site by that master builder, the man who probably built every structure in the community for the ensuing twenty-five years, Mr. Harry Zudick."

Harry Zudick. The Master Builder.

"The total bullding area was composed of a lovely, simple sanctuary twenty-two feet wide and forty feet long, and a simple all purpose room ten feet by twenty-two feet." The building which Mr. Regan describes roughly corresponds to what is now the sanctuary room of the now expanded and renovated facility. He continues, "I say an all purpose room for it had to serve as the cheder or classroom, as the library, as the reception room for all aufrufs, weddings, bar mitzvahs (in those days we didn't have bat mitzvahs), and all other celebrations. A parking lot we did not need for no one dared drive to shul on the Sabbath or Holidays. There was no running water, but we did have the old hand pump outside the building.

Heat was provided by the wood burning pot bellied stove in the front of the classroom."

So the Jews of Mount Freedom had themselves a synagogue, a small simple white building on a little hill, in the midst of the bustle of the Summer and the isolation of the rest of the year.

And shortly after the construction of the building, the first Sefer Torah was given to the congregation by Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Freidberg, one of the founding families of the congregation. In a ceremony that evidently left a great impression on those who witnessed it, the Sefer Torah was paraded up Sussex Turnpike, escorted under a chuppah in a"We had a million different rabbis in those days."

So said Herb Steinberg, the first Jew born in Mount Freedom. I asked if any Rabbis were particularly memorable.

"Well, Rabbi Hertzberg", he said. "I remember him."

In 1925, Rabbi Louis Hertzberg became the first Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation of Mount Freedom.

"He was a house painter, and a rabbi. In those days, the rabbis did everything, read the Torah, taught Hebrew School, beadle, chazen.

Rabbi Hertzberg taught my Hebrew school class, three days a week. He was from the old country, a real old timer, very strict. "This is the way it is...' He would hit you with a stick in Hebrew School if you acted up. You know, some people liked him, and some people didn't. Let me tell you a story.

In those days we didn't have pews in the synagogue, we had chairs. I remember one Saturday the people were arguing about Rabbi Hertzberg, and throwing the chairs at each other.  It made quite an impression on me as a little boy."

Imagine that. Arguing over a rabbi.

"I also remember Rabbi Warshaviak. He came here with a family, and young kids. I remember he was really easy to get along with. He was a full time rabbi, and a schochet. He used to make house calls to kill your chickens. He didn't stay long, though. It was tough to be a rabbi out here in those days."

In the 1930s, rabbis were paid $300 a year, and had to provide their own housing. Typically, they did everything. They served as community rabbi, davened all the services, lained the Torah, served as beadle, mohel, Hebrew School teacher, and High Holiday's chazen. They supplemented their incomes in varlous ways, sometimes by making house calls to kill your chickens, but I imagine that living in Mount Freedom must have been very hard, Isolating, and lonely for a young, religious family of that era, particularly during our Winters. So, the Hebrew Congregation of Mount Freedom had a million different rabbis in those days,

"You should tell them about Yushke."

This is Lou Koval again. "He was the shammas.

He lived in the basement of the synagogue, and used to scare the hell out of the little children."

Yuske, whose real name was Joseph Kossodoy, served as the shammas and caretaker for the synagogue from the 1930s until the 1960s. He lived in the basement in an enclosure off the boiler room. He was, evidently, quite the character.

Howard Messer told a story. "Local legend has it that he was a horse thief. He got in a lot of trouble over in Chester once. He would steal horses and paint them different colors and resell them. When It rained the paint would wash off the horses. Another thing about Yushke is that he didn't trust banks, so he would carry around huge wads of money all the time. He would walk into the grocery store and pull thousands of dollars out of his pocket."

Toby Messer also had a Yushke story. "Back in those days we lived close to the synagogue. We couldn't decide whether we wanted to live out in the country, or in the town." She laughed. "As if Mount Freedom is such a big town. Anyway, sometimes, when my father was staying with us, Yushke would walk right into the house early in the morning without knocking, walk into the bedroom where he was sleeping and say 'Let's go, we need a minyan."

"Yushke always tried to break up the football games." I spoke with Howard Krosser, asking whether he had any Yushke stories of his own. "Yes, he always tried to break up the football games. On Thursdays, when we were in Hebrew School, often a truck full of live chickens would drive up from one of the markets, so the Rabbi would have to stop the class for a while so

that he could go kill the chickens. While we waited we would take a Tefillin bag and go play football on the front lawn. Yushke always tried to break up the games. He would stand there screaming 'Paskudnyak! Paskudnyak', and wave his cane around in the air."

Lou Koval also remembered how Yuske performed an essential and difficult service to the community, acting as shomer, the watchman who would sit with the dead bodies before their funeral. And Arthur Regan wrote of how Yushke always led the drinking songs on Simchat Torah.

Though many of the tales of Yushke are likely apocryphal and exaggerated, I like to believe that they are all true, that this man really could have been a horse thief and a shomer, for this says a lot about the richness and complexity of both the man and the community. And besides, guardians of the Torah come in many shapes and sizes. Mr. Joseph Kossodoy, a/k/a Yushke, alleged horse thief, shammas, shomer, guardian of the minyan, distrustor of banks, Tefillin-bag football referee, and frightener of little children, died in 1969. A plaque to his memory is affixed to the synagogue wall.

"I came here in 1948 from the Bronx after we got married."

That was Toby Messer, recounting her story as I continued stuffing myself.

"You know, Sol insisted that the first thing I do is learn how to drive. We stopped at the first town in New Jersey, I think it was Teaneck, and I got a permit. Then, the next week, I took the test and I got my license! Most of the women didn't drive, so I would pick them up and take them to the meetings."

I asked, how many meetings?

"Twice a month was the Ladies Auxiliary meeting, once a month was the board meeting, and once a month we had a card party. We had a meeting of one kind or another every Wednesday night."

A meeting every Wednesday night?

and once a month we had a card party. We had a meeting of one kind or another every Wednesday

night."

"Well, you see, there was no television, and most of the women didn't work. Years ago, people were looking for something to do. We worked very hard, and raised money, and all the money we raised went to the shul. We had card parties, dances. I was in charge of the Cheer Book. At our meetings, I would keep a record of the donations in the Cheer Book, a dollar for  a birthday, five dollars for an anniversary, this and that. Also, every yeat, in the late Fifties and early Sixties, we would rent a store In Morristown and have out rummage sale.ā€  Toby started to laugh. "I remember Mrs. Pearl Adler, she could sell anything.  Sometimes a customer would come in wanting a bedspread, but we would only have drapes. So, she would take drapes and sell them as bedspreads."

I asked Toby whether the Ladies Auxiliary was able to raise much moncy this way. She explained that, through their Cheer Books and card parties and rummage sales, they were able to pay off the entire mortgage in the carly 1960s.

The synagogue's most ambitious renovation project, the expansion and construction of Hirschhorn Hall in 1965, though of course personally guaranteed by several families in the community, was made possible in large part through Toby and the ladies of the auxiliary. raising a dollar at a time.

Over the course of our conversations, I asked the interviewees about relations with the non-Jewish community, and whether they had ever encountered any anti-semitism. Linda

Koval gave a most interesting answer:

"I attended the Randolph Township School, which served the entire township in the 1940s.

People were generally OK, but, for years, I never had a school picture. The photographer always came on Yom Kippur." I asked her why?

"I don't know. I don't think they did it on purpose, and I don't think it was anti-semitism. I think they just never bothered to check. They weren't thinking. I didn't have a school picture until I was in eighth grade."

Sol Messer had his own story. "I was on the town council. After I had won the council election, I couldn't find anyone who had voted against me, but I still only won by seven votes. I was the only winning candidate in history ever to ask for a recount."

"But", Toby said, "Sol was still elected the first Jew on the Randolph Board of Education, and he was the first Jewish Mayor."

Herb Steinberg had his own viewpoint. "We had good and bad, but mostly good. I don't think people even realized that they were being anti-semitic. I think, though, sometimes they thought the country belonged to them, and we were

Intruders. Sometimes their attitude was, like,

'whoa, slow down there, fella.' But once, when me and Sol were both on the council, someone said, 'what, two Jews at the same time?' And I said, You son of a bitch, I'm running!'

Both Linda Koval and Toby Messer recalled that the Klan held occasional meetings, sometimes in Sparta and Hackettstown, and I've heard, but never confirmed, that Morristown Memorial Hospital admitted neither Jewish patients or doctors until the 1960s. But, mostly, everyone spoke of generally good relations with the townspeople. If these relations were occasionally marred, it was not by the violence of retarded rednecks, but rather by the occasional stupidities of otherwise good men and women who, I hope, now perhaps know better.

"Rabbi Pruzansky, you have to write about him." It was Toby again, remembering Rabbi Jerry Pruzansky, the spiritual leader of The Mount Freedom Jewish Center from the early 1960s until his death on Rosh Hashanah In 1973. "Write about him, He was such a nice man."

Herb Steinberg remembered him too. "Yes, Rabbi Pruzansky. He was very popular. He once opened up the New Jersey State Senate with a prayer. I liked him. He wasn't overbearing with the religious business."

While reading through some old monthly bulletins, I found an interesting quote from Rabbi Pruzansky, dated November 1964:

*We have just completed a most successful registration in our religious school. It is most gratifying to know that our membership is strongly aware of the great importance of an intensified Jewish education. There has, however, been one exception: The fallure of many to register their daughters. Educating our sons and not our daughters is an outdated idea. Today, we provide our sons and daughters with an equal secular education; it is just as important to provide them with an equal Jewish education..."

"He was a very mild man, very kind." That was Toby Messer again. "He had wanted to be a lawyer, but his mother wanted him to be a Rabbl. He never told anyone he was sick."

Rabbi Pruzansky passed away in 1973 after a long battle with leukemia. He was 39. In a memorial composed at the time, it was said that

"the finest tribute we can pay this man is to uphold the ideals and beliefs which he expounded, and make this community worthy of having the opportunity to be the benefactors of his phtlosophy and teaching.

Many accolades were used to describe him:

Scholar, teacher, humanitarian, religious leader, friend. He was instrumental in the founding of the Hebrew Day School, was one of the leaders of the Morris County Board of Rabbis, and was able to reach out to many people with his sermons and radio show.

"He was a very mild man, very kind." That was Toby Messer again. "He had wanted to be a lawyer, but his mother wanted him to be a Rabbi. He never told anyone he was sick."

Rabbi Pruzansky passed away in 1973 after a long battle with leukemia. He was 39. In a memorial composed at the time, it was said that

"the finest tribute we can pay this man is to uphold the ideals and beliefs which he expounded, and make this community worthy of having the opportunity to be the benefactors of his philosophy and teaching."

The need for the Hirschhorn Hall expansion in 1965 was necessitated by several factors simultaneously changing both Randolph and the Mount Freedom Jewish Center: The decline of the hotels, and the rise of Randolph's population.

Lou Koval recounted some of those changes. "The heyday of the hotels was the 1950s and 1960s. But then, in the mid-1960s, the Thruway opened and it was easier to get to the Catskills. Also, the cost of fuel started going up, and air travel started to get inexpensive. The places started losing their glamour after that."

"I think it was air conditioning." It was Sol Messer's turn now. "It was comfortable here in the Summer, but after air conditioning, they didn't have to come anymore. They could stay home."

Andy Koval also had an Interesting observation. "All I remember, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, is that every year the cars would drive up, and every year the people just got older and older."

Now back to Lou. "Saltz's finally closed in

1978. About the same time, Randolph started changing from a country town into a suburban bedroom community. The first big development was Shongum Lake. That was the beginning of a major influx of Jews into Randolph."

Randolph, it seems, had always been known for excellent schools, lots of land, and good recreational facilities, and consequently there was a substantial increase in population in the 1960s.

The synagogue's population Increased along with the township's. By the mid-1960s, the Hebrew School at the Mount Freedom Jewish Center had over 130 students, necessitating the need for the Hirschhorn Hall expansion. In addition to the contributions of the Lady's Auxiliary, the expansion was financed by a building fund and a new mortgage, personally guaranteed by several members of the congregation. Hirschhorn Hall was dedicated in 1966, just as Randolph's Jewish community was growing and evolving from a Summertime resort to its more recognizable contemporary suburban shape.

Here I must tell you a bit of my own story.

In 1994, me, my wife, and our two little kids were living in a small apartment in Queens with the E-train and the car alarms, and looking for a new place to live. Through a friend of a friend, I wound up calling the Mount Freedom Jewish Center for information. The next thing I knew, a very nice lady by the name of Beverly Meiersdorf, over the telephone and without any reference whatsoever, had invited us to spend Shabbat at their house. The invitation was so unusual that we, naturally, accepted. So, one Friday afternoon shortly thereafter, we arrived at the home of Beverly Meiersdorf and her husband, Rabbi David Bateman. When the Rabbi saw us drive up, he walked over, grasped my hand, and smiled.

"Welcome!"

From Rabbi Bateman, these are most appropriate first words.

I sat with Rabbi Bateman In his office one night last December and reminisced, first asking about the observational evolutions of the synagogue.

"I consciously tried to steer the shul toward a more traditional practice. For example, we Instituted a shorter, more traditional Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service, to allow people more time to enjoy a Shabbat family meal. We moved toward more participatory services, with many different people reading from the Torah, many different people davening. But, we became more avant garde at the same time. We're a little out of the mainstream. For example, we generally observe separate seating, but couples who attend services and wish to sit together are welcomed and accommodated, too. We have a mechitza, but we don't use it all the time, we use It for certain family's functions or as circumstances dictate.   This is very unusual for a typical Orthodox synagogue."

Rabbi Bateman, this conservative man with the gray beard and the blue jeans, leaned back in his chair and reflected off into another direction.

"Fairness Issues," he said, "have always bugged the hell out of me, particularly with respect to women. The typical Orthodox synagogue mind-set says 'women cannot be on the bimah.' But we developed a Saturday morning Bat Mitzvah option, in which girls could give a d'var Torah from the bimah, in front of the entire congregation during a Shabbat morning service. The next step in this evolution Is women's prayer groups, as with Dalla's Bat Mitzvah."

Dalla Tammam is a young woman who recently celebrated her Bat Mitzvah by organizing a Woman's Tefila group so that she could read from the Sefer Torah in a manner within traditional halachic guidelines, In what was a source of enormous pride to the entire community and an event which will certainly take on more significance as time goes on, nearly 100 women attended that service, to pray, to sing, and to read from the Torah together.

Some people believe that being Jewish Is Itself a commitment to social activism of one kind or another. There are public activisms, as when the synagogue chartered a bus in 1987 and forty people from our community rallied in Washington in support of Soviet Jewry.

There are quieter activisms, too, such as visiting a sick child or an elderly person in the hospital. There are activisms such as Dalla's. And then, according to our Rabbi, prayer is its own form of activism.

"Look, when six guys show up for minyan, that's still six guys coming to synagogue because they want to pray together. Helping to make a minyan so that a mourner can say Kaddish is itself social activism, an act of Chesed.

Sometimes just showing up can help make someone feel better. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with God."

At the Mount Freedom Jewish Center, we all pray and practice in different ways, and for different reasons. Some of us are from most traditional, observant families, and some of us from the most politically and religiously liberal.

At the Mount Freedom Jewish Center, we all pray and practice in different ways, and for different reasons. Some of us are from most traditional, observant families, and some of us from the most politically and religiously liberal.

Some of us practice most restrictive guidelines of Kashrut, some of us less so. Some of us drive on Shabbat, some of us don't. Some of us pray in Hebrew and some of us pray in English. Some of us don't pray at all. Yet, in spite of our differences, or perhaps because of them, we usually all manage to get along. Imperfectly, yes, but generally with success.

Or, as Rabbi Bateman said, "CLAL Yisroel. We are one.ā€

On a beautiful Winter day this past December I took a stroll through the Mount Freedom Hebrew Cemetery, and was reminded that the history of a synagogue is the very history of our lives and our deaths.

Our community is fortunate in that our cemetery Is mostly empty, but some of our tragedles were evldent that day. In the middle of the cemetery is the tree-draped tombstone of Pvt.

Sidney I. Helstein, Killed In Action, Italy, October 18, 1943, at the age of 34. Nearby were the graves of his parents, burled later. 

Another monument I saw that morning was less permanent, but as polgnant: The words "I MISS YOU DADDY" were written in child's letters in the freshly fallen snow, encircling the mound of a newly dug grave.

The history of a synagogue is the very history of our lives and our deaths. And the history of a synagogue is saying goodbye to those whom perhaps we didn't know as well as we would have liked. On January 15, Herb Steinberg, the first Jew born in Mount Freedom, passed away at the age of 77. As I was leaving his home that night in December, he left me with some final words.

"You know, everyone had their own ideas on how to run the place. Sometimes we wanted things a little differently from one another. But, we were hard working people, and we all wanted the same thing. Don't forget to tell them that we all worked together, for one shul. Don't forget to tell them that."

Herb's in the cemetery now, along with other men and women with names like Zudick, Hirschhorn, Rosenfarb, Messer, Tenzer, Sains, Saltz, Okun, Adler, and so many of the other builders of our little out-of-the-mainstream shul.

Over the gates of the cemetery are the words of the Talmud: "Honor a man for who he is, but honor him more for what he does." May these men and women all rest in peace, and with the honor due them for their deeds.

And in the Ethles of the Fathers Is the universal admonition: "The task is not ours to finish, but neither are we free to take no part in It." The history of a synagogue is the very history of our lives, the joys, the sorrows, and the everyday mundane events. It is how we will remember ourselves, and how we will be remembered by those who come after us. The Mount Freedom Jewish Center has had a rich, full, and colorful history, and, together, there is much more ahead.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784