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Artifacts from the Shul Library

From time to time I come across some hidden treasures in the shul library. Typically, they are things long forgotten. But they offer a glimpse into the past, not just of the individuals involved, but of shul life and Carnegie life.

I am sharing two items that you will appreciate. First is a Hebrew bible issued to Bernie Roth during WWII. Long timers at the shul remember Bernie as a good man who was dedicated to his family and the shul. The house at 416 Anthony still stands, and can be easily seen when standing in front of the shul.

The second item is a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. You may know one or more of the names on the library loan card. And as a bonus, there was an Easter egg (can I say that on a Jewish blog?) inside the book. Buried in the middle pages was a little gift left by a budding artist for us to find decades later; a small scrap of paper that looks like it was torn from the bottom of a newspaper. It’s a little over 2 inches long and features a mockingbird being pierced by daggers. It would be easy to dismiss this but I as I looked closer I was immediately impressed by the artwork. No simple stick figure, the bird is shaded to provide contour. And I was especially struck by the stylizing of the word “kill”. It plays with the shape of the letters and at the same time invokes the chaos of daggers coming from all directions. Some of the letters in “mockingbird” are triangular in shape and out of alignment to continue the theme. My goodness, quite impressive for a doodle on a piece of scrap paper! I hope this young person, who appears to be “DB” or “LB”, went on to develop their natural gift for art.

(all photos can be enlarged by clicking)

U.S. Army Hebrew bible


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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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I won’t be in on Monday

If you haven’t been to the Carnegie Stage (aka Off the Wall Theater) you are missing out on a local treat. This intimate 100-seat theater on Main St. hosts some very entertaining and thoughtful programs— some humorous, some serious, some controversial. For 4 years in a row the theater has received the 50/50 Applause Award for having at least half of its productions written by women. Only the HERE Arts Center in New York has won it more times. Many of the productions are unique and will only be seen in Carnegie.

This weekend you will have the opportunity to see well known New York playwright and actor Anne Stockton. It’s the second time she’s come to Carnegie, having previously performed her show The Speed Queen— her adaptation of a Stewart O’nan novel. It’s not surprising that Anne’s plays delve deeply into the psyche of her characters; she’s also a practicing psychiatrist! Her new play premiers in Carnegie Thursday night and runs only through the weekend.

Nikki is being interviewed by a detective in the high level financial firm where she works about the disappearance of two very valuable rings earlier that morning.
A witty look at the ways in which we are swept away by the scenarios we
imagine for our lives.

The Carnegie Stage amazingly fills about 5,000 seats a year and is an asset not only to Western PA theater goers, but to our small businesses that benefit from the extra foot traffic on Main St. And remember, members of the Carnegie Shul get a deeply discounted ticket price. When you show up at the door, make sure you tell Hans you are from the shul.

Click HERE to learn more about the show.

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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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The Advance of Art in Carnegie

Andrea Lepcio and France Hilbert

My friend Phil Salvato is fond of pointing out that a community that has art is a community that thrives in all other aspects— shops, restaurants, business, housing. When we look at the revival of Carnegie over the past few years, it is obvious that the arts are certainly a factor. Although we do have the 3rd Street Gallery and The Clay Place, I would point to music and live theater as major developments. Phil himself, while being mostly known for his painting, has been a tireless promoter of jazz in Carnegie for the past 20 years. The Pour House brings live music to Carnegie every Tues-Sat evenings. But what actually sets the Pour House apart from other taverns is that they also have live music during lunchtime and happy hour. Our Carnegie Library Music Hall (which also is known by its awkward but appropriate nickname, the Carnegie Carnegie) rounds out the musical offerings in the borough with performances ranging from opera to chamber music to choral works appropriate for that grand venue.

Just as significant as the growth of music is the growth of live theater in Carnegie. Our Music Hall hosts two resident theater companies— Pittsburgh Savoyards and Stage 62. These two very different theater companies have loyal followers in the Pittsburgh area and draw a lot of people into town from other communities. More recently, Hans and Virginia Gruenert moved Off the Wall Theater from Washington, PA to Main Street. Newly reorganized as The Carnegie Stage, it hosts the Off The Wall Theater company and the Firewall Dance company. This month The Carnegie Stage is hosting New Works Festival, a month long program of brand new one-act plays. This long running annual festival moved to Carnegie three years ago in another sign of Carnegie’s burgeoning theater scene.

The growth of the music and theater scene has caused a boom in new restaurants and shops in Carnegie. This in turn has caused other businesses, like engineering and software companies to want to locate in Carnegie. This Main Street ‘vibe’ helps them attract and retain employees. The spin off effects are real and observable. How many of you can say that you can walk from your office to have lunch at one of 10 unique non-chain restaurants? And that’s not counting the ice cream shop at Flying Squirrel. Critics of course will say that they can go to many other venues to hear live music and see live theater. That’s true. And they will say that they can drive to any restaurant they want. And that’s true, too. But what they can not say is that all of those things are in walking distance from their home and office. Yes, it’s great that we are bringing guests into town from neighboring communities. But while many communities claim that they are “great places to live, work, and play”, Carnegie is actually doing it.

OK, the original intent of this story was to tell you about two special guests we had at shul for Yom Kippur. But I migrated into talking about how great Carnegie is, and I can’t ever turn that spigot off!

I made several new acquaintances during the Holidays, including Harry Scheyer, Philip Green, and Ed Elikan. But of special interest were two women who are visiting Carnegie on arts related projects. They were surprised to learn that there was a shul in Carnegie, and that they could attend Yom Kippur services here, and it was close enough to walk!

Andrea Lepcio is a playwright who has lived most of her life in Boston. Her play Searching for the Pony debuted here in Carnegie last year, and I know some of you saw it. It is the story of a family dealing with breast cancer. Well, Andrea is back. Her newest play Tunnel Vision will have its world premiere here in Carnegie on October 16. It will run for two weeks at The Carnegie Stage on Main Street before heading to lesser known theater towns like NYC. Andrea will be here in Carnegie for the next month or so, as she helps the cast prepare. She told me that we should expect to see her at the shul during that time. Click HERE for more information about her upcoming production.

Talma statue in production

Talma statue in production

France Hilbert has an easy to remember name. She is France from France. Born and raised in Paris, but spending much of her adult life in NYC, France is a painter and sculptor currently living in Bar Harbor, Maine. In addition to her artwork, she was active in Yiddish life in NYC. She is known for her outdoor permanent exhibits like the statue of Talma, on display at the Theatre of the Valley of L’Yerres, in Brunoy, France. See more of France’s work HERE and HERE.

Samples of France Hilbert works.

Samples of France Hilbert works.

As Carnegie continues to renew itself, we should expect that events such as the visit of Andrea Lepcio and France Hilbert will become more typical and less rare.

Note: it’s important to clarify that the above photo of Andrea and France in the sanctuary was not taken during the Yomtov; I took it after the Wednesday Maariv service following the conclusion of Yom Kippur. —Rick


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