The Bulletin: January/February/March 2001
From the Rabbi
Years ago one of my colleagues suggested that we Jews no longer call ourselves "The People of The Book." He thought "The People of the Checkbook" was a more accurate description of our priorities. Tongue in cheek, he was talking about our penchant for the easy fix in the realm of the spirit and conscience. All too often we find it far easier to send a check to assuage our guilt and allow us the privilege of not getting involved.
Sadly far too many of our lay organizations in America have confused generosity with religiosity and learning. Jewish leadership in many groups is determined by the number of dollars a person is able to donate. Only now are we beginning to see the destructive consequences of such practices. Today there appears to be a corrective trend, one in which more philanthropic money is being spent on Jewish education than ever before. All around the world, Jewish leaders are beginning to recognize truth of what Jewish tradition has taught all along: the pursuit of Jewish wisdom is equal to all the other mitzvot.
All across North America today a renaissance of Jewish interest and learning is taking place. The variety and offerings of adult classes available in many Jewish communities staggers the imagination. All serious bookstores today stock a wide variety of titles in Judaica. Yet, in spite of this unparalleled interest in things Jewish, I am astonished by the paucity of Jewish books in the homes of most of the people I visit. I often find - usually when a family member begins preparing for bar or bat mitzvah - that many congregants don't even have a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures or a sidur (prayerbook).
During his first year in office as president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie instituted a far-reaching program of Jewish literacy. Many congregations throughout the US have adopted this program for their boards as well as their adult education programs. Perhaps it is overly idealistic to suggest that our members should read five or six Jewish books a year. That might be too much for most people; yet I suspect the majority of us don't read any. My hopes for my congregants in today's hectic world are more modest. If I can convince you to read only one or two Jewish books a year for the remainder of your sentient life, I'll be satisfied. If you do that, and continue to do so each year, our community will benefit as will our synagogue. Time, then, can aid in producing not just Jews who read about Judaism but people who will come to truly value what is in "The Book."
Buy your Jewish books in our Gift Shop where your spending goes to support the synagogue and its programs. Here are but a few of the titles that are available:
The Book of Jewish Values
500 Years in the Jewish Caribbean
God and the Big Bang
Mourning and Mitzvah
The New Jewish Baby Book
Gates of Shabbat
UAHC Torah Commentary
Gates of the Seasons
The Essential Kabbalah
Good wishes, good reading, and shalom,
Rabbi Jay Heyman
From the President
On Friday night, September 15, 2000, our Congregation held a special Erev Shabbat service to celebrate the formal dedication of our Synagogue as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. Dr. Mark Barnes, Senior Archaeologist with the NPS, personally presented the plaque identifying the Synagogue as a landmark and a certificate of appreciation for the restoration of the structure undertaken by the Congregation. The timing of the presentation was perfect. We were able to receive the plaque in the Synagogue, which the Congregation just recently restored to its original 1833 appearance and preserved for generations to come.
We are reprinting here excerpts from the remarks delivered by Dr. Barnes and the full text of the remarks of Mr. Myron Jackson of the Virgin Islands' Historic Preservation Office. Although our Delegate to Congress Donna Christian-Christensen was unable to attend, she sent an aide to read for us the statement she made in the House of Representatives congratulating us on the dedication. That statement is now recorded in the Federal Register.
Plans for our rededication of the Synagogue are underway. We have tentatively set the date for January 4th, 2002. In the meantime, we will be completing the fabrication and installation of the donor plaque recognizing all those who have made the restoration possible.
Excerpts from the prepared remarks of Dr. Mark Barnes, Senior Archaeologist, National Park Service at the National Historic Landmark Presentation, St. Thomas Synagogue, September 15, 2000:
National Historic Landmarks come in many different shapes and sizes, but they are all visible reminders of events, person, buildings structures and objects that have affected broad patterns of American History. Some historic landmarks are significant for their history of architecture (Fort Christian or Blackbeards Castle); some for their association with famous people or events (Fort Frederik); and some for their representation of past cultural developments (Columbus landing site). They must all, however, possess national significance in commemorating the patrimony of the United States and the U.S. Virgin Islands. National Historic Landmarks represent the best reminders of certain national historic themes which make up the heritage of both the Virgin Islands and the United States.
The purpose of Landmark Designation for historic properties by the Department of the Interior is both to identify and provide recognition of such properties and to encourage their owners to preserve them. Eligible landmarks are chosen through thematic studies prepared by the National Park Service, evaluated by the National Park Service Advisory Board, and designated by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the Historic Sites Act of 1935.
I would like to thank the Virgin Islands Preservation Staff who first brought the St. Thomas Synagogue to my attention as a potential National Historic Landmark over six years ago. And, of course, I would like to thank the late Mr. Frederick Gjessing, a former NPS restoration architect whose great assistance to my office in the production of the NHL nomination for this property was critical to its designation by the Secretary of the Interior.
On behalf of the Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and the Director of the National Park Service, it is with tremendous pleasure that I present this bronze plaque officially designating the St. Thomas Synagogue a National Historic Landmark and this Certificate of Appreciation to the Congregation for its historic restoration of the site.
Prepared remarks delivered by Myron D. Jackson, State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, September 15, 2000:
"On behalf of Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the staff of the Historic Preservation Office, we congratulate the Hebrew Congregation for the induction of this structure as a National Historic landmark. If the walls could speak, they would tell countless stories of the lives of the men and women who have contributed significantly to the Virgin Island society. Their story would speak of their migration and settlement in the former Danish west Indies. Not too far from here, in the historic neighborhood of Savan, established by the Danish Government in the 1700's, for Jews, Free Blacks, and Catholics remains a historic Jewish cemetery. Within its walls are buried members of this same Congregation. The surnames of Maduro, Castro, Levi, Monsanto, and Levin are some of the families connected to this Synagogue. Efforts by this Congregation to maintain and restore this cultural resource are commendable.
We also acknowledge the tireless efforts that this Congregation has made over the decades to maintain and preserve this Synagogue. This commitment is evident through your recent efforts to restore this structure, which has been beautifully completed. This Synagogue is one of the most architecturally interesting religious structures constructed in the town of Charlotte Amalie. The artisans who built this Synagogue took pride in their work; likewise, the local artisans who were involved in the restoration executed the same level of craftsmanship. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge several individuals: one is the late Mr. Fred Gjessing, Architectual Historian, who in the early 1960's developed the first architectural description for the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation for the publication Historic American Building Survey for the U.S. Virgin Islands. His dedication in the field of preservation and the technical assistance he rendered during his career will be always remembered. Following in Mr. Gjessing's footsteps is a close colleague and friend, Mr. William Taylor. His love for preservation is reflected in the restoration of the Synagogue. Our congratulations are also extended to him and the contractors, Custom Builders, and craftsmen for their fine work.
It is known that this Sephardic Synagogue is the second oldest in the western Hemisphere and the oldest in continuous use under American flag… the doors have remained open for over 160 years for all to visit. Daily, one can find tourists, students, and residents visiting this site. The history of Charlotte Amalie would be incomplete without mention of this Synagogue. Its connection to world history speaks of Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the quest of Jews for religious freedom and human rights. The Virgin Islands proved to be safe haven, not only for Jews, but also for other religious groups as well.
The nomination of the Synagogue as a National Historic Landmark is among the most important tangible reminders of our island's rich heritage. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Mark Barnes and his colleagues, from our Southeast Regional Office, Department of the Interior, for his valuable assistance and support in making this happen this evening.
Once again, on behalf of the department, best wishes and may the eternal Light of this Synagogue of Blessing, Peace, and Acts of Piety continue to burn for generations and generations to come. Shalom."
From Our In-House Historian
After six years of research and writing, Judah Cohen announces that the synagogue will soon have its own detailed, scholarly history.
Judah, a Harvard University doctoral candidate, writes, "The University of New England Press/Brandeis University Press has accepted my manuscript, tentatively titled Through the Sands of Time: A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, USVI, for publication as a part of its 'Brandeis Series in American Jewish Culture, History, and Life.' This is reason for excitement: UPNE is a major academic press, highly respected for its Judaica publications; and Dr. Jonathan Sarna, an eminent historian of American Jewry, is the general editor of the series in which the book will appear."
About the Book
Written in a narrative style meant to engage a general readership, Through the Sands of Time is a meticulously documented account of St. Thomas's Jewish community and synagogue from the 17th century through the congregation's bicentennial in 1996. In it, I have incorporated hundreds of new sources gathered from archives and institutions in Copenhagen, the Hague, London, Cincinnati, Boston, Washington, D. C., Berkeley, CA, St. Eustatius, St. Croix, and (of course) St. Thomas, in an attempt to portray the many stages of the island's Jewish community in depth. From Sephardic Central-Europeans to Askenazic Eastern-Europeans to Americans, from a mercantile economy to a tourist economy, from the Spanish Portuguese ritual to American Reform ritual, the congregation has seen numerous significant changes in economic conditions, population and religious practices. The forces - and people! - that kept the St. Thomas congregation running throughout these times create a remarkable and significant story within American Jewish History.
More On Synagogue History
As with many academic volumes, the publisher holds the author responsible for raising a sum of money (known as a "subvention") to help defray some of the book's editing and production costs. Judah is appealing to us for assistance in raising this sum. There is currently a "reading" copy of the latest version of the manuscript circulating among the congregation; and some excerpts will appear in this journal over the coming months. With the help of our readership and members, the St. Thomas Hebrew Congregation will soon have a published, book-length history. Your designated donations to the Rabbi's Discretionary Fund for the book's subvention will help shorten the publication process. For more information please contact Judah Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warm Welcome to Our Newest Members
Judy and Daniel and their baby boy Hunter Spitzer who relocated to St. Thomas from Chicago.
Arthur Newman of St. Thomas
Warm Welcome to Our Newest Sponsors
Jaroll Silverberg and Jaci Segalobb of Connecticut and St. Thomas.
CJ, our Board member, Kimberly, our Past President of the Sisterhood and teacher of the Religious School, and their son Koby Ellick, who leave us on March 7, 2001, for greener pastures in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We wish you all the best in your new endeavor. We will miss your friendship and energy.
Todah Rabah - Thank you very much
To all the donors to the Antiques, Art and Collectibles Auction; to the hard working committee volunteers who made it a huge success; to all the participants of the auction; to Larry Tanis for repairing Yads (Torah pointers) and chains on Torah breast plates; to our docents: Annie West, Herb Horwitz, Marilyn Grishman, Helen Goldman, and Kanit Cottrell for making time to lead tours at the synagogue; to Jackie Jeffries for taking care of the Onegs; to George Blackhall for donating the compressor for our refrigerator; to; Helen and Larry Goldman for the refrigerator in the Gift Shop; to Archie Ogden for tying the loose ends of the auction; to Penny Feuerzeig for tying loose ends of the last auction and worrying about the next.
General Fund: Joyce & Louis Adolfsen in memory of Gov. Ralph M. Paiewonsky; Lester & Lauretta Allen in memory of Sidney Allen; Ronald & Mollie Bayer in memory of Isadore Pasternak, Sara Pasternak, Becky Bayer and Max Bayer; June Bell & Neil Mendelson in honor of their engagement; Mikki Belvedere in memory of Lauretta Healy; Adam & Pamela Berkowsky in memory of Paul Berkowsky; Sheala Berkowsky in memory of Paul Berkowsky; Ron & Terry Berlin in memory of Adele Berlin; Tom & Kristine Brunt; Ernest & Ilse Camis in memory of Horace Camis; Alan & Rita Cochin in memory of Mary Gang; Mark & Rhoda & Reynold Corn in memory of Pearl and Louis Gerstel; Franzi Coulianos in memory of Israel Levin; Marvin & Leonore Crane in memory of David Cohen; Marvin & Leonore Crane in memory of Hannah Golderger; Bernard & Ina Dalin in memory of Samuel Delinsky; Robert & Evelyn Danzinger in memory of Maurice Hazen; Nancy & Ralph Dworman in memory of Simon Greenberg and Joseph Dworman; Irving Dwosh in memory of Jeannie Dwosh; Rubin & Gloria Feldman in memory of Bessie Kaplan - Basya Bas Yosef and Joseph Feldman - Yosef Ben Zalman; Penny & Hank Feuerzeig in memory of Monty Abrams; Libby & David Fogle in memory of Sam Kipp; Melvin Gart in memory of Goldie Gart; Melvin Gart in memory of Nathan Gart; Dorothy Gerard in memory of Sadie Tepper Wolf; Emily & William Gindin in memory of Jack Gindin and Belle Gindin; Angela & Jeffrey Glosser in memory of Jeannette M. Vitkin; Helen & Larry Goldman in memory of Manuel Goldman and Florence Goldman; Henry & Margrit Goldstein in memory of Fritz Heider; Henry & Margrit Goldstein in memory of Lilo Goldstein; Morton & Francyne Greenberg in memory of Eileen Henry Gimpel, and Sarah Herman; Seymour & Muriel Greenberg in memory of Lillian Dworfman; Joseph & June Greene in memory of Rose Greene, Aaron Greene, Ida Thorpe, Sarah Chase, Mildred Halpern, Anna Sandler; Karen Israel; Seymour Jeffries in memory of David Jeffries; Sharon & Herbert Kreiter in memory of Joseph Nathan Shapiro; Howard & Jane Kupperman in memory of Harriet Kupperman; Jacqueline Kweit in memory of Hannah Kweit; Eileen Lapin in memory of Chana "Hank" Lapin; Warren & Patricia Lupson in memory of Margaret F. Bishop; Michael Mallin in memory of Roslyn Mallin; Gail Meister in memory of Charlotte Meister; Louis & Elaine Michaelson in memory of Philip Scherl and William S. Blau; Arthur & Belle Miller in memory of Betty Geller; Bernice Miller in memory of Anthony Carragher; Jeffrey & Roberta Miller in memory of Leroy Miller; Margaret Moron in memory of Guido S. Moron; Burton & Pauline Morovitz in memory of Arthur Morovitz; William Moss in memory of David Alan Moss; Robert & Arlene Niskar in memory of Dorothy Niskar; Dr. & Mrs. Milton Nowick in memory of Joseph Nowick; Archie & Ella Ogden with Happy Birthday wishes to Franzi Coulianos; Archie & Ella Ogden in memory of Monty Abrams; Lt. Col. George & Ethel Orloff in memory of Sarah Goldenstein; Morris Paiewonsky in memory of Hulda Paiewonsky; Rita Pomerantz in memory of William Pomerantz; Mark & Roslyn Poplak in memory of Maish Walder; George Pretzfelder in memory of Frederick Pretzfelder Preston, and Clara Pretzfelder; George Pretzfelder; Mr. & Mrs. Phil Purer in memory of Ronald J. Purer; David & Nana Puritz in memory of Raymond Puritz; David & Nana Puritz in memory of Alfred "Sparky" Puritz, Stephen & Jacqueline Rose in memory of Robert Rose; Ronnie & Jackie Reckseit in memory of Stuart Reckseit, and Marc A. Reckseit; Richard & Lynn Saltz in memory of Harry Saltz; Rabbi Stephen Schafer and Nina Schafer in honor of Julia Cassinelli's birth; Carol Schatten in memory of Ben Smith; Sandra Schindler in memory of Minnie Golberg; Dr. & Mrs. Berry Schneider in memory of Albert L. Schneider; Geraldine & Richard Schrier in memory of Sydney Kay Kurnetz; Geraldine & Richard Schrier in memory of Mary Schrier; Burton & Marilyn Schwartz in memory of Jack Schwartz and Ruth Leventhal; Ann & Al Sculnik in memory of Jack Sculnick and Rose Abrams; George & Audrey Segall in memory of Abe Segall; George & Audrey Segall in memory of Rose Segall; Dr. Melvin & Lillian Shein in memory of Leah Shein; Dvorah Eber Shulman in memory of Ely Shulman; David & Phyllis Simms in memory of Rebecca Phillips; Nick & Nina Sintsov; Arthur & Helen Smith in memory of Lester Smith; Stephen & Lisa Solomon in memory of Jesse Solomon; Martin & Laurel Stahl in memory of Pincus A. Stahl MD; June and Jerome Stark in memory of Florette Stark; Ilene Sussman in memory of Joseph Sussman; Michael & Terry Tarnow; Jane Tuchman in memory of Kenneth Tuchman; Jim & Becky Tunick in memory of Barnett Tunick and Theodore Tunick; Jim & Becky Tunick in memory of Doris Tunick; M & S St. Thomas Realty Associates and Theodore Tunick & Co. with thanks to Rabbi Jay Heyman for Invocation and warm remarks at the Grand Opening of the Tunick Building. Philip Vedus in memory of Jennie Vedus; David Weber in memory of Ruth Weber; Carol Weinberger in memory of Monty Abrams; Richard & Suzanne Weinstein in memory of Abraham Weiss; Richard & Suzanne Weinstein in memory of Kate Weinstein; David & Sylvia Weisberg in memory of Arnold B. Moss; Joseph & Estelle Weisenfeld in memory of Lena Gamerman; Burton & Sylvia Weisfeld in memory of Cindy Simon; Spencer Witty in memory of Arthur witty; Judith & Stanley Woloff in memory of Jarrod Ross Walerstein; Mr. And Mrs. Mike Woltz in memory of Arthur A. Herman; Marjorie & Michael Youchah in memory of Jennie Youchah; Steve Zimmerman in memory of Samuel Zimmerman;
Cemetery Fund: in honor of Katina Coulianos being named Person of the Year.
Nancy Jacobs Fund: Mark and Hariet Cooperstein in honor of Hannah Schafer's Bat Mitzvah; Franzi Coulianos; Dori Rosenberg in honor of Hanna Schafer's Bat Mitzvah; Rabbi Stephen & Nina Schafer in memory of Cornelle Dixon, Amalia Mylner, Dee Greene, and Dr. Dana Moses;
Restoration Fund: Penny & Hank Feuerzeig with Happy Birthday wishes to Franzi Coulianos; Helena Dunn in memory of Dr. Dana Moses; Penny & Hank Feuerzeig with get well wishes to Marjorie Pozefsky; Earl Grossman; Ed & Marge Kalik; Ivy Reade Relkin; Rabbi Stanley & Ivy Relkin in memory of Monty Abrams; Rabbi Stephen & Nina Schafer in memory of Irene S. Zweigenhaft and Monty Abrams.
Weibel Museum: Andrea Weibel in memory of Aurelia Weibel; Andrea Weibel in memory of Elias J. Weibel; Andrea Weibel in memory of Monty Abrams.
Special Projects: Dick and Teri Golden for restoration of the Protocol Book; Sandy and Marilyn Grishman for restoration of a pew; Norma Levin for Dr. Martin Luther King birthday program.
We thank you all.
We record with sorrow the passing of:
Lisa E. Whitney
Daughter of Ruth and Donald Lentnek
Husband of Penny Abrams
Our Friend, Member, and Past President
Mother of Rochelle Ellick
Grandmother of Mark, Charles and Jason Ellick
Great Grandmother of Koby Ellick
Mother of Phebe Schwartz
Here are selections from the Fall 2005 Bulletin, including the Congregation's response to Hurricane Katrina.
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