Synagogue unearths memories in a copper box

Synagogue unearths memories in a copper box

Former and current members celebrate time capsule’s secrets

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

The time capsule is carefully opened at Pine Brook Jewish Center. 
The time capsule is carefully opened at Pine Brook Jewish Center. 

The crowd at Pine Brook Jewish Center in Montville pressed forward in the large social hall on Sept. 11, as the copper case was carefully placed on top of a table ready to be opened. A simple handwritten note on yellowed paper was taped to the front. It read: “DO NOT TAKE. TO BE PLACED IN CORNERSTONE.”

The box came from Lake Hiawatha Jewish Center, which merged with PBJC in 1995. Richard Kurland, then president of LHJC and a current PBJC member, recalled during the festivities that the time capsule was nearly left behind. “As we left Lake Hiawatha on the march to Pine Brook 20 years ago, I kind of looked over and saw the cornerstone in the building. And just being inquisitive, I said, ‘There must be something in that cornerstone.’” He was right. He chiseled out the cornerstone, found the box, and has had it ever since.

About 150 people gathered for the opening of the box. Many, like Roz Monka Lippa, serving as an emcee, were longtime members of LHJC, which was established in 1945. Lippa — who grew up there and whose father served as president and whose mother, Ana Monka, was at the event — reminded the group what the area was like at the beginning, when they were in their original building, which she called “a tiny shul,” on the site of what is now the Lake Hiawatha Library.

“On North Beverwyck Road, looking toward Lake Hiawatha, all you saw on the right was a farmhouse, a barn, and cows and on the left, cornfields,” Lippa recalled. “It was a very quiet lake community.” She reminisced with the old-timers about Moishe Stern, the kosher butcher; the kosher Hiawatha Bakery; and Sadie Wishnick’s kosher deli.

She remembered the time when “the cornfields started to disappear and the developments started to appear,” and when the congregation’s membership, along with the population, boomed. That growth led, in 1965, to the synagogue’s move to a larger building. At its peak, there were over 400 members, but as demographics shifted, the congregation dwindled.

Many of those at the gathering were no longer congregants, and there were plenty of hugs for long-lost friends and acquaintances, even long-ago Hebrew school teachers and their now grown students. Lippa greeted her own first Hebrew school teacher, Sheila Roesch Schaeffer, with an embrace.

Finally, the moment arrived. The event’s other emcees, Kurland and PBJC president Jonathan Cohen (who was on the board of Lake Hiawatha during the merger) donned safety masks, along with congregant Jeffrey Weiss. They sawed carefully through the box. Until it was open, no one was certain whether the contents were from the 1965 dedication or if the capsule had been brought from the original “tiny shul” when the congregation moved.

The first document revealed that the contents were indeed from 1965, as they pulled out the “Ceremonies of Dedication” for the new building, dated February 1965, along with a kipa printed for the occasion, a Kadima youth group booklet, articles of incorporation from the synagogue, and a few other documents. One surprise was a business card from Sanders Roofing, offering “all kinds of metal work.” The group surmised it was placed there by a savvy businessperson, probably the one who soldered the box closed.

For Schaeffer, of Parsippany, who is now a member of Young Israel of East Brunswick, the day was all about memories. She joined Lake Hiawatha Jewish Center right after she married in 1956 and was a part of the community until she joined the congregation her son belongs to in 1999. “Today is very emotional,” she told NJJN. “I am never at a loss for words, but today I am.”

Gil Lachow, another longtime member who is now a congregant at Temple Beth Am in Parsippany, said, “This is absolutely great. It’s very memorable. There are so many people here today who were part of that community.”

As Lippa said, “Today it feels like we’re walking into the social hall of the Lake Hiawatha Jewish Center.”

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