Friends, 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 Times have changed and that’s part of the joy of looking at historical documents.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.
Many of you are aware that there is a new theater in Carnegie named Off The Wall. It is located on Main Street across from Citizens Bank and opened about a year ago. Formerly this company was located in Washington, PA but moved to Carnegie because of our superior location near Pittsburgh and the western suburbs (shameless plug for Carnegie by local borough councilman). OTW presents unusual and uncommon plays. This isn’t the typical fare that you would see in large productions in the city. But that’s fine with us. We have two live theaters in Carnegie and they each have their niche.
Recent offerings include a play about a woman with dementia and her estrangement from her husband. Another dealt with a strained mother-daughter relationship and breast cancer. Today I’m writing to tell you about a play currently being performed at OTW called The Zero Hour. It stars Erika Cuenca and Daina Michelle Griffith, and was written by Brooklyn playwright Madeleine George. It’s directed by Robyne Parrish. The lead character, Rebecca, writes textbooks for a New York publishing house and has been tasked with writing a chapter on the Holocaust for 7th graders. Because the textbook has to be marketable throughout the U.S., including the Bible Belt, she has to be careful about what she says. As a Jew, and a homosexual, there’s much she would like to say but isn’t allowed. She finds the task stressful, to say the least. And of course, any good story has complications that add to the tension. There’s her roommate/lover who won’t get a job. And, there’s the guilt/stress of hiding her roommate from her mother. As Rebecca’s stress mounts she starts hallucinating— Nazis appear on the train when she comes home from work at night, and they engage her in lengthy conversations. The whole script is excellent. I especially liked the intertwining of the “living a lie” theme as Rebecca describes a “closet” Jew living with false papers in Berlin, while Rebecca herself is hiding her true life from her mother. I also liked how Rebecca struggles with how to make the Holocaust relevant to 7th graders. She can’t describe the enormity of it all— how many Shea Stadiums full of people are we talking about? Her descriptions of the text book modules are priceless.
The acting is very good all around, with Erika giving an especially strong performance as Rebecca. Each of the two leads play 4 or more characters each, which means that they had extensive lines to memorize and have to change costume, accent, and personality repeatedly throughout the play. The numerous costume changes are done on-stage which adds a physicality to the play and an extra challenge to the actors. The set design is excellent, including subway cars, with lighting and sound effects that mimic being in the underground. I give the cast and crew high marks for an emotionally moving and intellectually stimulating performance.
It’s not often that we get a Holocaust themed play in Carnegie. I am probably understating the obvious; we probably have never had a Holocaust themed play in Carnegie! That said, this play is not for everyone. There is overt lesbian sexuality portrayed in some scenes. If you are offended by two women kissing and fondling, you may wish to stay home. The play is running for two more weekends. Members of the Carnegie Shul get a substantial discount on ticket sales; you can call me if you want more info. The OTW website is here.