The Persistence of Memory

As she looked over a crowd of old friends, 81-year-old Eleanor Klieman couldn't help but feel sad. After being a member of Adath Tikvah Montefiore in Rhawnhurst for more than 40 years, she was happy to be back in the old building to talk and share a meal with friends, but the reunion party also served as a constant reminder that her beloved synagogue closed its doors for good four years ago.

"I'm trying not to cry," said Klieman, who still lives in the neighborhood. "The demise of Adath Tikvah was a very huge blow to me. I was the bookkeeper for 30 years, so it was my second home."

Others at the June 24 reunion seemed in a more festive mood as they embraced one another, noshed on bagels and swapped stories about the synagogue's heyday.

"To come back here and see the people — it's a warm feeling to know the friendships are still there," said 61-year-old Sam Heller, a former president of the synagogue who was instrumental in implementing the merger with Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in June of 2003. "Even though the body of the synagogue has moved to Ohev, the nefesh — the ruach — is still here."

While many of the 100 or so participants toured the building to reminisce — and to observe how it was renovated to become the Stern Hebrew High School — Klieman stayed behind.

"I don't want to see how different it is," she said. "I'm here today to see everybody, but as far as the building goes, I might just as well be in any building. It's not ours."

Although unhappy to lose their home away from home, Klieman and other longtime members did express their satisfaction that the building was still being used for Jewish purposes.

"The mere fact that we sold to a Jewish Hebrew high school that attracts the Orthodox was a wonderful thing. We're very proud of that," declared Stan Shore, 70, who was president when the synagogues merged.

For Heller, the decision to merge came after taking a long, hard look at the demographics of the neighborhood and the religious institution.

"People sitting in the sanctuary were in their late 70s and 80s," recalled Heller. "You know you have to make a decision because the money's not coming in."

After Adath Tikvah closed, some congregants moved to other synagogues in the Northeast or attended services with friends or relatives. Still, many made the move to Ohev Shalom, where they frequently take advantage of the young synagogue's wealth of groups and activities.

"From our perspective, they have enriched us greatly in many ways," said Rabbi Eliott N. Perlstein of Ohev Shalom. "They're at Shabbat services, they're at all of our programs."

For Shore, the move there could not have gone better.

"It's very warm surroundings; they've welcomed us and taken us into their synagogue, and made it like a second home to us," he attested.

Since traveling from the Northeast to Richboro can be daunting for some of the older Adath Tikvah folks, Ohev Shalom provides transportation to and from the synagogue on holidays and on Saturday mornings.

Paula Spigler, a Holocaust survivor, is among a small group of people who take the bus to Ohev every Saturday morning.

"It gives us pleasure to be there," acknowledged the 83-year-old. "We love Rabbi Perlstein very much. He worries about everybody; he knows us by first name. It's such a beautiful synagogue — everybody cares about everybody."

To commemorate the addition of Adath Tikvah, Ohev Shalom plans to build a chapel in the former shul's name, which will house artifacts and memorabilia from the Rhawnhurst entity.

Emphasized Heller: "The name's going to go on forever." 



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