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.
What 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.