Window on a changing world: Synagogue to be razed but star will … – Worcester Telegram

Posted By on August 23, 2017

Paula J. Owen Correspondent @PaulaOwenTG

GARDNER - The stained-glass Jewish star on a building near City Hall on Main Street has been an important reminder of Gardner's Jewish heritage, so when news spread that the synagogue building had been sold, people contacted the bank that purchased it to urge the buyer to somehow maintain its history.

Jonathan A. Dudley, who moved to Gardner in 2014, said he noticed the former synagogue, which had closed in the 1990s, and wondered about it.

Nothing made me sure it was a synagogue other than the Star of David, Mr. Dudley said. I read about immigrant stories in Gardner in the exhibit at (the now closed) Heritage State Park Visitors Center and started talking to the archivist at the library. We researched it in old city directories, but I didnt know anything else about it.

Then, about a week ago, he said, he read in the local paper that Workers Credit Union on Main Street had purchased the building at 152 Pleasant St. for just $500 and planned to demolish it and turn the parcel into a parking lot. The synagogue, built in 1912, was home to Congregation Ohave Shalom for much of the 20th century.

Concerned, Mr. Dudley emailed Doug Petersen, the banks chief executive officer, in the hopes the bank would at least preserve the stained-glass star.

When I read that Workers Credit Union had bought the historic synagogue on (Pleasant) Street I hoped that the building would be renovated in a way that celebrated the contributions of Gardner's Jewish residents, Mr. Dudley wrote in his letter, dated Aug. 17. I was deeply saddened to learn that instead Workers planned on tearing the building down for yet another parking lot. I hope that Workers will incorporate some historic marker or other feature to communicate to passers-by that the site was once home to a Jewish congregation and honor Gardner's Jewish heritage.

Mr. Dudley also contacted former U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Liebermans wife, Hadassah Lieberman, after he learned that she grew up in Gardner and that her father, Rabbi Samuel Freilich, was the rabbi at the synagogue for many years.

Monday evening, Mr. Dudley received a response from the bank.

You have helped to deepen our understanding of the place this building holds in the hearts of the people of Gardner, wrote Sandra Sagehorn Elliott, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Workers Credit Union.

The bank plans to commemorate the site with a marker and donate the stained-glass star to the Gardner Museum to maintain the citys Jewish heritage, the letter says. The building is close to the old courthouse and City Hall, where other memorials stand.

I was really glad to get a response, Mr. Dudley said. It has kind of felt constant that buildings come down here, and all of them mean something to someone. It was nice to see that it mattered to people and it made me realize that it is important, if things like this matter to us, to at least make some effort to make our concerns register.

I wonder, with the reality all over the news of Nazis marching in the streets, that it even made it more pressing to Workers Credit Union and made them more responsive, he continued. It seems the time is extra vigilant for how we celebrate different groups of people who make up our community. Its an intense time and certainly wasnt a time that I wanted to be imagining the Jewish heritage in Gardner would be erased.

Arthur E. Rome, 66, of Leominster, whose family has owned Rome Furniture on Main Street in Gardner for 72 years, attended services at the synagogue for decades with his mother, Sylvia Rome.

Mr. Rome, who was born and raised in Gardner, said his family had dual membership at the synagogues in Gardner and Leominster. Mr. Rome said he received his Hebrew school training in Gardner and attended temple with other Jewish families in Gardner, including the Cohen, Garbose, Goldstein and Rose families, and also with Hyman Sandrof, who donated the land for the synagogue.

It was very emotional when it closed, Mr. Rome said. Through all my youth and early manhood, I have a fond remembrance of temple and the people there.

He said, he too, contacted bank officials about maintaining the history.

On Monday night, he said, the bank's COO gave him complete assurance the Star of David would be taken down gracefully and delivered to the Gardner Museum, where other artifacts from the temple are on display, and that the bank would incorporate green space and a memorial into the parking lot.

That is a comfort to me, Mr. Rome said. It is comforting to hear they plan to take those pains and ensure the history is never forgotten here and will not be overlooked.

Rabbi Yehoshua E. Azehvi, from Congregation Agudat Achim in Leominster, said the synagogue there absorbed most of Gardners members when it closed, and memorial plaques and family records were transferred there.

I think it is very emotional and difficult when members have to transition to another area synagogue, Rabbi Azehvi said. But there does come a time, if the community is shrinking or changing, that they need to sell the building. For them (members), it can feel like the memory and history in the community is being erased, but it needs to be understood the building needs to be sold.

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Window on a changing world: Synagogue to be razed but star will ... - Worcester Telegram

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