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My boyhood shul and the sadness we share

  • Kristallnacht Commemoration at the Colonial Theatre in Keene Thursday. Photo by Caitlyn Doherty—

  • Kristallnacht Commemoration at the Colonial Theatre in Keene Thursday. Photo by Caitlyn Doherty—

  • Scenes from Kristallnacht. Courtesy Photo



For the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, November 13, 2018 2:13PM

I loved the 2018 Red Sox. With my team leading the World Series against the Dodgers, two games to one, I was looking forward to the fourth and fifth games on Saturday and Sunday, October 27 and 28. Then, that Saturday morning, a man killed eleven men and women in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Suddenly, baseball didn’t seem important.

I thought back to my childhood days in Claremont. Until I was nine, we had no rabbi, but we did have a shul, the Yiddish word that many Jews use instead of “synagogue” or “temple.” The word, which means “school,” has a homelike sound to it. In post-War Claremont, it really was hamish (the Yiddish word for homelike) because the shul was a room in Mr. Blumberg’s house on Central Avenue. He was a kosher butcher (a shochet), and he was also a learned man (hakham) who conducted the services. (Disclosure: My grandparents spoke Yiddish, I do not. These are a few of the words that I managed to inherit.)

In 1948, the Jews of Claremont purchased an old building on Putnam Street, where my father had gone to grade school, and turned it into “Temple Meyer David.” Meyer was Meyer Satzow, and David was David Blumberg, Mr. Blumberg’s son. They were the two Jewish boys from Claremont who died in World War II, fighting for our country. They knew that Europe, where they lost their lives, was not a safe place. They could not have known that a few years later a synagogue in their home town would be named after them.

The Jewish community not only acquired a building but we got our first rabbi, a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. Michael Szenes was tall, handsome, soft-spoken, learned, and kind. I can’t say that I loved going to shul as a boy. I would have preferred playing baseball. But being in the presence of Rabbi Szenes was and remains one of the privileges of my life. And being at Temple Meyer David was safe, or so I thought.

October 27, 2018, was just another Sabbath at Pittsburgh’s L’Simcha (“Tree of Life”) synagogue. Then it became a Sabbath unlike any other. A gunman shouting anti-Semitic threats entered that house of worship and violated the Sixth Commandment when he opened fire on innocent men and women who had gathered to observe the Fourth Commandment to honor and observe the Sabbath.

My first thought when I heard the news on the radio was, “Not again.” My second thought was to recall what a woman in Japan told me a few years ago when I asked whether she would like to live in the United States. “No,” she said, “It isn’t safe there.”

To call these killings “senseless” doesn’t quite capture the enormity of the act. According to Scripture, whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the whole world.

How ironic it is that that these murders happened in a shul during a bris, the traditional Jewish ceremony of circumcision and naming which is held on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life. It is a joyous occasion, with parents, grandparents, family members and close friends celebrating the gift of life.

How troubling it is to realize, once again, that even a house of worship is not safe. And yet, Scripture also tells us that to save a life, as did first responders in Pittsburgh, is like saving the entire world.

I was glad the Red Sox won those two games, but I didn’t watch very much, and I was not as joyful as I would have wished. A person has only so much room for emotions, and my feelings of sorrow over what happened in Pittsburgh took up most of my space.

Eighty years ago, starting on November 9, 1938, Nazis conducted a pogrom throughout Germany, burning synagogues, killing Jews, wreaking havoc. Broken glass from Jewish homes and shuls littered the streets, which is why it is calledKristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. If not the beginning of the darkest time in human history, it was surely a turning point, seen by some as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Last Thursday, I attended the annual commemoration of Kristallnacht, held at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. This gathering of over a thousand people from all over Cheshire County, and beyond, occurred just days after two mass killings in our country. The theatre was full, as people of all races, ethnicities, and religions gathered to remember, to mourn, and to join hands.

I felt safe there.

Joseph D. Steinfield lives in Keene and Jaffrey. He is a lawyer at Prince Lobel in Boston and Of Counsel to the Law Office of Thomas R. Hanna in Keene. He can be reached at jsteinfield@hannalandlaw.com. Copyright 2018.


 Kristallnacht Commemoration at the Colonial Theatre in Keene Thursday. Photo by Caitlyn Doherty— Kristallnacht Commemoration at the Colonial Theatre in Keene Thursday. - Photo by Caitlyn Doherty—