Six decades on Salem

Next year in Oakwood, but as the last High Holy Days on Salem Ave. approach, longtime Beth Abraham members take a look back

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

 

Photo: Marshall Weiss
Irv Reingold (L) and Clara and David Hochstein recall memories of Beth Abraham at its Salem Ave. location. In 2008, the synagogue will relocate to Sugar Camp in Oakwood

During the new Jewish year, Beth Abraham Synagogue will become the last Jewish institution to leave the old neighborhood. Its move to Oakwood in March will mark the end of a Jewish communal presence in Dayton View, the hub of Jewish life in the Miami Valley from the 1940s to the ‘70s.

Shortly after the High Holy Days, the Conservative congregation’s eight resplendent stained-glass windows will be taken down. They will be reconfigured into the main sanctuary and small chapel of Beth Abraham’s new home.

Though only two of those windows were in place when Beth Abraham Synagogue Center at Salem Ave. and Cornell Dr. was dedicated on Sunday, Sept. 18, 1949, longtime congregants are hard-pressed to remember a time before all the windows enveloped them.

“I can’t think about this building or this synagogue without these windows,” says Renate Frydman, co-chair of the capital campaign for the synagogue’s new building. “I don’t know of any place that I’ve seen where the stained-glass windows are as vivid as these are.”

To the community, the new building on Salem represented the merger of Beth Abraham on Wayne Ave. and the Dayton View Center on Cambridge Ave.

To Dr. Mike Jaffe, it represented the ideal playground. As a boy, he raced through the building while it was under construction. “I’d run through the air ducts and so forth, anything I could get my little self through,” he says.

Mike, a past president, sang with Beth Abraham’s choir from age 10 to 21. He says his was the third Bar Mitzvah at the Salem Ave. building; the first, he recalls, was Victor Zwelling’s.

Fifty-nine years ago, Clara Berman wanted her wedding to David Hochstein to take place in the new building; but it wasn’t to be.

“It wasn’t finished, so we had to get married downtown at the Biltmore Hotel,” says the lifelong congregant. “I do know that Dot and Si Englehardt had the first wedding in the sanctuary.”

Clara says her parents were the first members to move to Dayton View from the older Jewish neighborhood of East Dayton, home of Beth Abraham’s predecessor on Wayne Ave.

“It must have been 1924, right after I was born that we moved out here. We used to walk to the Wayne Ave. Synagogue,” she says, noting that by the time the Salem Ave. building opened, most congregants lived in the neighborhood.

Irv Reingold, known for almost 50 years to local television viewers as Ted Ryan, joined Beth Abraham when he came to Dayton in 1949 to work for WHIO. The dedication ceremony for the building was broadcast on WHIO-AM; he served as narrator of the radio broadcast.

“We also televised High Holiday services for more than a couple of years,” he says. “I remember coming to Joe Sternstein, the rabbi, and asking, ‘They want me to do it. What will I do? You’re not supposed to work. Joe, that is my work.’ Joe said, ‘For the good of the shul and the people.’ And it was amazing the comments I got from non-Jews. My barber said, ‘I’ve never known about anything Jewish. It’s amazing. You worship the same God as we do!’ And he was not being funny. He meant it.”

During the High Holy Day services, the sanctuary was so crowded, “we had people literally fighting for seats,” Renate says.

When the building first opened, members could purchase reserved seating for life. Clara’s parents were among those who owned seats. “You had to be in that seat by 10 o’clock or it wasn’t your seat,” she says.

“But it was amazing,” Irv adds, “because most people showed up when they should show up for their seats. The upstairs was packed. The bleachers up there were completely filled.”

Full capacity of the sanctuary and bleachers was 1,000. In Oakwood, the main sanctuary will have 225 seats, with expanded seating areas for up to 485.

“The first time I walked in, I thought it was like a theatre,” Dr. Sheemon Wolfe says of the Salem building. His mother’s family, the Frougs, bought all the seats in Row L, center section.

Beth Abraham’s roots date to 1894 when a small group of Lithuanian Jews established their own Orthodox Jewish congregation.

Sheemon’s grandfather, Israel Froug, a skilled cabinet maker, came to Dayton in 1916. Israel contributed funds and his craftsmanship to the Wayne Ave. Shul, which followed the Orthodox tradition of women in the balcony, men on the main floor. “I can close my eyes and hear Rabbi Samuel Burick,” Sheemon remembers. “He had a gorgeous voice.”

When Beth Abraham moved to Salem Ave., Sheemon kept his father’s Wayne Ave. pew. He still has it.

With the move to the Salem Ave. building, and with the influence of Conservative Rabbi Jacob Agus, separate seating disappeared.

“Originally, this was supposed to be called United Synagogues because Beth Jacob and Beth Abraham were supposed to merge and have one synagogue,” Sheemon says of the Salem building. “The people at Beth Jacob just went ahead and built the Kumler Ave. Shul (1944).”

“Keeping kosher was pretty much the norm at the time as I remember,” Mike says. “We walked to services every week.”

In the late 1940s, the congregation introduced Bat Mitzvahs to Dayton, held on Friday evenings. Renate says she was the third Bat Mitzvah girl in Dayton, though just prior to the opening of the Salem building.

“I was married here,” she says, looking up at the windows. “My kids went to school here, they had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs here, my two daughters were married here, my grandchildren had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs here.

“My father collected money to build this building. Here he was, running away from the Holocaust, being able to collect money to build a sanctuary here, and I know he had excitement about that.”

The sounds of the Beth Abraham Youth Chorale, led by Cantor Jerome Kopmar, are also part of the building’s history. “The choir not only sang in Israel, Europe and the United States,” Mike says, “practically all their music was written by Jewish composers, and is still being sung today. I was lucky enough to record many of their concerts for them.”

It was with the chorale at Beth Abraham in 1982 that Metropolitan Opera tenor Jan Peerce performed his final concert.

Two decades ago, with the encouragement of Rabbi Samuel Press, Renate wrote a series of articles for Beth Abraham’s newsletter explaining the symbols and passages on the windows.

Stained glass artist Todros Geller designed the two windows closest to the Torah ark. When he died, A. Raymond Katz designed the remaining six in the same style. They illustrate Judaism’s major holidays. In addition, artist David Bekker crafted 10 small windows illustrating the Ten Commandments, placed at the rear of the sanctuary.

Beth Abraham has received a grant of $200,000 from the Levin Family Foundation to remove and reinstall all of its stained-glass windows. The Bekker windows — never properly lit and often overlooked — will be seen in their glory for the first time after the move.

Clara says she hopes the move will bring more children to the synagogue. “I was just talking to the rabbi (Bernard Barsky),” she says. “I have a fund here, the Sam and Sadie Berman Candy Fund, that gives kids that come up to the bima a bar of candy. There’s no one to give the candy to on Shabbos.”

For three months last spring, Mike photographed the windows. “I wanted to make sure that somehow, there is a record of how they really were magnificent,” he says. “They may be magnificent in the new building: I don’t know and I can’t make that decision. But I do feel a window, especially any work of art like that, is meant to be shown in toto, not in pieces.”

“There will be some tears shed,” Renate says. “But there’s a wonderful feeling about being able to be part of building a new synagogue. Time passes and everything changes. But the heart of this congregation is the people.”

 

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