Category Archives: History

Susan Stein and Joe Klee pay a visit

On Shabbos, Feb 9, we had two special visitors at the shul.

Susan Stein lives on the upper West Side of Manhattan, but she’s not home often. She travels the country and the world performing her play “Etty” about the life of Etty Hillesom. Etty was a Dutch Jew who was murdered at Auschwitz when she was 29. She left behind diaries that give a glimpse of the last few years of her life. Susan gave 4 performances of her play at Carnegie Stage, one of two live theaters we have in Carnegie. And while in town she also managed to conduct the play for over 300 school students. And come to shul on Saturday morning! We were delighted to have her. She participated in services and stayed afterward for Kiddush. If you missed her performance, you can take 30 minutes and watch this interview she gave to Lynn Cullen.

At the end of services a young man came into the shul just looking around (he didn’t appear dangerous). I introduced myself and he said he was Joe Klee. He was in town on business and his father had advised him to visit the Carnegie Shul while in Pittsburgh. Well, as Dr. Block would say, “there are no coincidences”. Just 10 minutes earlier, while announcing yahrzeits, I mentioned that on Tuesday we would remember Dr. Harry A. Klee who was the main benefactor for the construction of our shul. His name appears on the cornerstone of our building. Joe stayed for Kiddush and afterwards I showed him the plaques for the Klee family on our yahrzeit tablets. The Klee family was numerous and one of Joe’s forefathers, Selig Klee, was a charter member of the congregation 120 years ago. The following day, I spoke with Joe’s father on the phone, Harvey Klee. Harvey explained that his parents were Joseph Klee and Rose Nadel. His grandparents were Hyman Klee and Lena Wilk. I was not aware of the Wilk connection, and will be looking forward to comments from the Wilk family.

As a complete aside, I saw Ethel Sherman McCarthy at the Pour House on Saturday night. She was there celebrating the birthday and retirement of her best friend, Cheryl Riley. As some of you know, Jim and Cheryl have sold the Pour House and are retiring to Florida. Of course I told Ethel that we would like to see her more frequently at shul. Her grandfather Markus Sherman was the founder of our congregation. The minyan met in his house from 1896 until 1903 when they built the first shul on Broadway St.

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The great Klan rally in Carnegie

Today is the anniversary of the great Ku Klux Klan rally in Carnegie in 1923.

We have to give the Klan credit for one thing— their message is consistent. Their grievances today are exactly the same as they were 94 years ago. In the attached August 29, 1923 edition of the Imperial Night-Hawk, the Grand Dragon of South Carolina says the mission of the Klan is “to prevent America from becoming the melting pot or dumping ground of the world for the heterogeneous element seeking admission to our shores”. Further, he states, “Paupers, diseased and criminals predominate among those who land upon American soil!” Does that sound familiar? It’s paradoxical that these diseased and criminal immigrants of the early 1900s would survive the Great Depression of the 30s, save the world from Nazis in the 40s, and build the world’s most powerful industrial economy in the 50s. They and their children became what Tom Brokaw described as the Greatest Generation.

While the Klan likes to describe how immigrants are a social and economic burden to America, their real concern is that most of the immigrants aren’t white. The influx of non-whites represents a danger to “white supremacy”, a term which appears in this 1923 issue and is not a recent invention. To have even a basic understanding of white supremacy it is critical that you understand their definition of “white”. It’s one of the things that is today forgotten, and in fact many young people never knew in the first place. The Klan definition of “white” doesn’t just refer to skin color— it includes religion and national origin. We used to use the term WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) to describe who was white. That term has gone somewhat out of vogue, but is still very much relevant. We must be reminded that if you are a Jew, you are not white. If you are a Catholic, you are not white. If you are Italian, Hungarian, Greek, or Japanese, you are not white. Etc, etc, etc. Some will say that things have changed over the years and that “white” and WASP are no longer synonymous. But in Charlottesville we watched white supremacists marching alongside neo-Nazis. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is a new kinder, more inclusive, less dangerous white supremacy out there. There isn’t. Here in western Pennsylvania, white supremacists represent the biggest threat of terrorism. Don’t take my word for it; ask the FBI.

You should take 15 minutes to read the entire issue of The Imperial Night-Hawk that I’ve attached. It has extensive coverage of the Carnegie rally that it claims drew 25,000 marchers and ended with one Klansman being shot to death. It’s enlightening. Click on the photo.

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Founders Day

Falk Kantor

Falk Kantor

Each year on Shabbos Zachor we take a moment to remember Markus Sherman, the man who founded our congregation. His yahrzeit is just two days before Purim. The Sherman family was one of the first Jewish families to move to Carnegie and by the Spring of 1896 there were enough families to form a small congregation. Initially they met in the Sherman home. But Carnegie was in a dramatic growth mode and soon the congregation outgrew the Sherman house. The congregation had its first board meeting in May of 1898 and just a few more years after that board decided that the congregation had grown big enough to require its own building. In 1903 the board filed incorporation papers with the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. The charter stated, “The purpose of this corporation shall be the worshiping of the Almighty God according to the faith, doctrines, discipline and usages of the Orthodox Jewish Church”. If you find the term Jewish Church odd, I will tell you that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania all religious institutions are referred to as churches. This terminology has an interesting history, on which I will elaborate at another time.

There were 15 signers on the original charter. Some were names that are well known to us even today: Sherman, Klee, York, Miller, Speizer. Others we have lost track of. One of those names was Falk Kanterowitz; he is listed as one of the first officers of the congregation. To me, he was just a name on a piece of paper until in 2009 a man named Abraham Goldberg contacted me from Jerusalem. He asked if we had information on Falk Kantor, the first president of the Carnegie shul. Wow! Who would expect such an email? He was doing research on the Silverstone family, a well known rabbinic family in Liverpool, England. Well, I dug up for him what I could, which wasn’t much. Together, Abraham and I pieced together information by combining what he had from family records and what we could find in the Criterion, the old Pittsburgh Jewish paper.

Beaver Falls shulWhat a fascinating story unfolded! Falk Kanterowitz came from a family of “shul builders”, if I may use that term for people who were the community organizers within the Jewish community. Falk Kantor (yes, he came to Carnegie as Falk Kanterowitz) built the first shul in Carnegie and was our first president. The shul was located on Broadway St. at the site of the current Family Dollar store. And it turns out that Falk also built the Beaver Falls shul. It was a regular family affair. Samuel Rabinowitz, we believe to be a nephew of Falk, was the founding president of the Beaver Falls shul. Another nephew, Rabbi G. Silverstone, was the rabbi of a shul in Washington DC. Please see the article from the Criterion on the right. At first blush it looks like a simple story of a shul opening, but the story takes on a different flavor when you realize that Kantor, Rabinowitz, and Silverstone were close family members.

You might think this story of historical detective work would have ended after we concluded our findings. Then one day out of the blue, one of our members, Joe Hoffman, said to me at shul, “I met a woman named Francis Bebo at the Steubenville shul, and she says her great grandfather built the Carnegie shul.” Really? I contacted her, and her and husband John paid me a visit. Yes, she is a descendent of Falk and Ada Kantor. Falk’s daughter Rose married Joe Bales, and then moved to Washington, PA. Florence is a descendent of the marriage. She has family pictures, one of which is the photo of Falk that you see above.

It turns out that another descendent, a Dr. Falk Arnheim from Mt. Lebanon is a grandson. As well, there are three brothers who carry the Kantor family name and are great grandsons. One of the brothers carries the name Falk Kantor and lives not far from the Tiphereth Israel Cemetery in Shaler where Falk and his wife Ada are buried. This coming Shabbos we will honor Falk and Ada Kantor with a special Kiddush at shul. Members of the Kantor family will be in attendance. I hope you will join us for this very special Founders Day.

 

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Hungarians

Budapest cookiesLast month I told you about a controversial Holocaust memorial in Budapest. Today, on this last day before Hanukkah, let me share a photo I received this week from Budapest. It requires no explanation.

 

This past Shabbos we had a very nice Kiddush in honor of two members of the Sherman family: Connie and Dr. Sam Sherman. It was hosted by their daughter Patty Barnet and her husband Alan.  Sam was the youngest child of Markus Sherman, our shul’s founder.  I told Patty that each year on the Shabbos before Markus’ yahrzeit we have what amounts to an informal “founders day” simply by remembering Markus and his contribution to us. This year that will fall on Feb 28, and Patty said she would like to be present. Many of you know that the Carnegie Shul was founded primarily by Hungarians, and that includes the Sherman family. Most of the Hungarian immigrants came to Carnegie well over 100 years ago, but the path to Carnegie was not always direct.  There were many Hungarian Jews in the Homestead-Braddock area and some of those families came to Carnegie. Others took a different path. Ike and Miriam Sax left Hungary in 1952 (not a simple feat to accomplish during the early Cold War years) and after some intermediate transit stops, came to settle directly in Carnegie. Aside from Patty, we have contact with the descendants of other original charter signers Benjamin Turk and Falk Kantor. Perhaps this year we can embellish our “founders day” remembrance by inviting them.  Mark your calendar: February 28.

I hope you have a festive Hanukkah, and I welcome your comments about the Hungarian families in our shul.

 

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50th Anniversary Program

Plaque 50th annivFriends, most of you know the basic story of our congregation’s founding. You know that services were first held in the Sherman home in 1896 and the first High Holidays that same year were held in the Husler Building, now owned by the Historical Society of Carnegie. You may not know that our congregation was officially chartered in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in 1903. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that charter, the congregation held a celebratory dinner. I have attached the program booklet from that affair. It is quite a fascinating look at our past. Click HERE.

Not only can we reminisce about the businesses on Main St. where we used to shop or eat lunch, we get to see a lot of names and faces of past friends and family. One of the things that caught my attention was that women didn’t appear to have first names back then. They were Mrs. Irving Bendis or Mrs. Bernie Roth. Times have changed and that’s part of the joy of looking at historical documents.

Thanks to my daughter Melissa for scanning this document into the computer. Feel free to share with others in the community who may be interested in Carnegie history.  PS. The shul president at the time of the original charter in 1903 was Falk Kantor. There’s a lot of history to be told about Mr. Kantor. Last year I met with his great granddaughter, Florence Bebo. I will be posting a lengthy story about the Kantors this summer. It’s going to take me a while to assemble all the story which has connections to Liverpool, England, Washington DC, Beaver Falls, PA and our home town of Carnegie.

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