“You know what I am going to see in there?” Bernice asked me. “No, what are you going to see?” I asked. She looked out the window at the old building, smiled and said, “Ghosts. Good ghosts, but ghosts.” No, this isn’t a belated Halloween article, rather the sharing of a most beautiful visit connecting our old synagogue building on Sterling Avenue to our new sanctuary on Soundview Avenue.
Our past president and precious member Bernice Brussel (nee Kraus) joined the synagogue with her parents, Mortimer and Gertrude, in the early 1930’s. A few years later, at a Friday night service for young adults, she sat next to a charming young fellow, Harrison Brussel. In 1941 they were married, right there in the sanctuary on Sterling Avenue. That space, with its pews carved with the Star of David and its wrought iron chandeliers, looks very much the same today as it did when it was built. The Brussel’s relationship with the congregation was busy and full through all these decades and continues to be so till this very day.
If you didn’t already know it, that beautiful little stone building on 16 Sterling Avenue and Post Road, right across from the Post Road Elementary School, was our original synagogue building, built by our congregation in the early 1920’s. Today it is occupied by the Salvation Army’s Church.
As the dedication of our new sanctuary approaches, we very much want to connect our old synagogue with our newly imagined space. This has unfolded in two beautiful ways: a visit to our first building with Bernice, and a way for the old sanctuary to have some presence in the new.
The “ghosts” that Bernice were referring to on that day were all of her memories of family, friends, High Holidays celebrated, Torahs marched on Simchat Torah, projects, parties, and dances in the social hall and the hours she spent teaching and learning in the building’s classrooms.
As we walked through the building she showed us the pew she always sat in with Harrison at services; we saw the classroom in which she taught Sunday school; the stage upon which she, Harrison and others put on many shows in the social hall and the Rabbi’s Study. It really was a very cool visit.
One of the Salvation Army workers came up to us and reluctantly shared a story. “You know, we felt bad all these years. When we first took over the building from you, there were these beautiful stained glass windows on either side of the sanctuary. Some people back then thought that since they had specific Jewish images, we should remove them. So we did. And we have no idea what happened to them; they were probably thrown away. We have always felt badly about that.”
Bernice’s face lit up when she excitedly interjected, “I know where they are! We saved them! We took them with us and they have been in the basement on Soundview Avenue ever since.” Indeed, every few years someone would comment on those “old stained glass windows” taking up room in the basement. On more than one occasion it was suggested that they be finally thrown away. But we kept them.
When we told the woman on Sterling Avenue that we had them all this time and that they are now going to be placed in our sanctuary, she was thrilled and relieved.
So next time you are in the new sanctuary and you look above the doors on either side of the sanctuary, you will see these magnificent stained glass windows, created in a Tiffany style. Know that they are not imitations or recently acquired antiques. They have been with us since the early 1920’s. They simple moved down the street with us 60 years ago. And when you sit in the sanctuary and look out the brand new floor to ceiling windows, you will see echoes of reflections of the stained glass. Let’s always remember our gift to future generations will always echo with the beauty and love of our founding generations almost a century ago.