Category Archives: History

Dorothy and Kurlie Miller

Over the past few months I have been troubleshooting a shul email problem, so if you’ve gotten a lot of “test” emails from me I apologize. Or maybe you didn’t get any! Gmail was blocking our email. They aren’t blocking us now, but check your spam folder. I am making progress, and I hope that most of our 150 subscribers receive email notification of new blog postings. While I was working on this email problem I had back-burnered a story about Dorothy and Alfred “Kurlie” Miller. Maybe now is a good time to share it.

In a small town like Carnegie there are paths that cross, and we are treated to the occasional unexpected surprise. This is one of those surprises. My dear friend and fellow councilman Phil Boyd handed me an envelope one day and said, “here, this is for you”. Inside the envelope was a mezuzah. For our non-Jewish readers, a mezuzah is a small decorative container that is affixed to a doorpost in a Jewish home. Inside the case is a lambskin parchment with hand written paragraphs of Hebrew scripture. The writing of mezuzah scrolls is an amazing skill and the scribes go through rigorous training. The scroll at the right is only 2 inches wide. So, imagine writing these scrolls for a living. (you can click on any of these photos to see more detail) I asked Phil where he got this artifact. He said he found it in a box of things that he brought over from his old house. Phil and his wife Cheryl had recently sold their home on Center Ave after having lived there for almost 35 years. As it turns out, they bought the house from Dorothy Miller in 1987. Phil had grown up next door to Kurlie and Dorothy Miller and from his youth was very fond of Kurlie. When Dorothy decided to sell the house, Phil bought it.  It is customary to take your mezuzahs with you when you move, unless a Jewish family is moving in behind you. Dorothy took all her mezuzahs, but one got left behind on a basement doorframe.

Kurlie and Dorothy were part of the large Miller family in Carnegie, which included Izzy and Morry of Izzy Miller Furniture fame. Phil credits Kurlie for teaching him how to do math. Kurlie would take the young Phil to the grocery store and they would have a contest. They had to keep track of the total cost of all the goods in the shopping cart, subtracting the value of coupons. And they did this in their heads! When they got to the cashier they would see who was correct. More often than not they would catch an error that the cashier made. I could tell how much the story meant to Phil because he had a smile that covered his whole face while he was telling me.

I never had an opportunity to meet the Millers. Kurlie passed away in 1982 and Dorothy retired out of state after she sold the house in ’87. Here’s a picture of Dorothy, Phil’s Aunt Margaret, and Kurlie. I don’t know where this photo was taken, but it kinda looks like the shul social hall back in the ’70s.

At shul we have some Torah covers that were donated to the shul in Kurlie’s memory. Here is one of them. Above his embroidered English name is his Hebrew name, Abraham Sender Miller. The Yiddish name Sender has a great history and includes the similar names Sander, Sanford, etc. Well known are Michigan Congressman Sander Levin and baseball great Sanford “Sandy” Koufax. These names are derived from the name Alexander, which can be split phoenetically in two: Alek Sander. Jews named their sons Alexander, Sender, or Sander in tribute to Alexander the Great, who treated the Jews in his empire justly and preserved the Temple in Jerusalem when he conquered the Middle East. Two of our shul’s Alexes include Dr. Alexander “Alex” Sax, son of Ike Sax of blessed memory, and Aleksandr Shenderovich, father of the twins.

So, back to the beginning of the story. The mezuzah is not in very good shape.  The case could be cleaned up, but the parchment is in poor condition. The case is not waterproof and the parchment has some water damage. It’s probably not kosher. I don’t know if buying a new parchment is an option because it is unusually small. And without a parchment, the case is just a decoration. I suggest that it would make a nice keepsake if someone in the Miller family wants to claim it. Just drop me a line. It’s sitting on my office desk.

Feel free to share some memories of Dorothy and Kurlie, and did I forget any Sandies?

Be well everyone. Rick





Filed under History, Uncategorized

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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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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