To my surprise, Ted Merwin’s article, “The Mystery of the Stained Glass Windows” (April 3), took me back to the coal region towns of my roots. I was born in Shenandoah, as was my husband. Mahanoy City was four miles away. My Aunt Sara and Uncle Leo Malett lived there and I spent summers there and went to the shul featured in the article.
There is a much bigger story here than missing windows. The Shenandoah Jewish community did everything Mahanoy City did not. In 2006, the remaining members of the Shenandoah Jewish community, together with committed family members who outreached for descendants with connections to the community, formed an association whose mission was the perpetual care of the cemetery and the preservation of the legacy of the community. My family members and others had wisely managed the money accrued since the land was purchased and burials began in 1886. Realizing the end was in sight, over the course of a few years the community center, synagogue and its contents were sold. All the assets were placed in the cemetery fund, every sale receipted and accounted for by my stepfather, Jack Klitzner.
Much of the Shenandoah shul now graces the very same West Hempstead shul of the article and was sold to it. The stained glass windows [of the Shenandoah shul] were not part of the deal. But one went missing. We got it back. The vice president of our association went to West Hempstead and physically returned it to the shul in Shenandoah.
In the course of our journey to secure the assets and maintain the cemetery we were legally represented by Bob Bohorad and Tom Campion, both of whom represented us tirelessly and with stunning commitment. In time, the Kehillat Israel Cemetery Association voted to give the money to the Foundation of the Federation of Central Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, in agreement that they would manage the cemetery. So far this arrangement is working beautifully. You can see the history of the community and virtually visit all those buried there on our website (www.freewebs.com/kehillathisrael.)
Shenandoah did the right thing at the right time in preparing for its communal demise. Mahanoy City did not. There are small, dying Jewish communities throughout the nation whose assets should go into the greater Kehillah and not to the last man who shuts the lights out. (An organization to assist in that step is The Jewish Legacy Project, www.jclproject.org.)
What happened to the Beth Israel windows in Mahanoy City is no “mystery.” Mahanoy City advocates have stepped up and are now fighting for what is rightfully theirs. West Hempstead should return the windows or pay for what they are worth so the Jews that lived and worked and davened in that shul can rest in peace.
The writer is president of the cemetery division of the Kehillat Israel Congregation in Shenandoah, Pa.