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To honor past, shul sends message to the future
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To honor past, shul sends message to the future

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Rabbi David Nesson, left, lights candles with three of the congregation’s oldest members, from left, Harold Krauss, Herman Frigand, and Rookie Friedman. Photo courtesy MJCBY
Rabbi David Nesson, left, lights candles with three of the congregation’s oldest members, from left, Harold Krauss, Herman Frigand, and Rookie Friedman. Photo courtesy MJCBY

A history of Morris County’s Jewish community, a children’s Torah scroll, recorded interviews with current members, and even Frisbees and T-shirts were among the items sealed in a time capsule at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael.

Marking the 80th anniversary of the synagogue’s building and the 110th anniversary of the congregation, members gathered May 23 to place the large plastic storage box in a little-used room beneath the main sanctuary.

The capsule is not to be opened until 2049, the synagogue’s 150th anniversary.

Religious school students were among the synagogue groups to contribute to the capsule, adding drawings and messages like this one:

“I was from the past; I was born in 2000, September 19. I love pickles, and I wish I could meet you right now. I’m from Randolph. I go to Morristown Jewish Center. I don’t know if anything changed but years ago we used to plays games like blast off….”

Another student wrote, “I’m in third grade. My teacher is Mrs. Karp. The director is Morah Melissa. This year we learned the whole alef bet; we also learned a lot of words, prayers, and songs. It’s been a really fun year. I hope I’m there to see the MJCBY time capsule get opened.”

This time capsule is the Conservative synagogue’s second such exercise in preserving its legacy for posterity.

Before the building’s cornerstone was cemented on March 3, 1929, a small copper box was secreted behind it — and soon forgotten.

Its existence was brought to light by chance nearly 75 years later, when longtime congregant Jerome Salny mentioned it in passing to then congregation president Linda Forgosh, who also serves as executive director and curator at the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest.

Salny’s father, David, was president when the building was dedicated. The family still had the ceremonial trowel David used to “lay” the cornerstone.

That time capsule — which contained, among other items, a history of the congregation, the invitation to the cornerstone-laying ceremony, newspapers from the day the cornerstone was laid (The New York Times covered the event on its front page next to “Lindbergh hurt but flies again”), and a document describing the formation and first meeting of a building committee — was exhumed in time for the congregation’s 75th anniversary five years ago.

“When that time capsule was buried, there was no Great Depression, there was no World War II,” said congregational historian Lew Stone. “And on the Jewish side, there was no State of Israel when that time capsule was buried.”

Ray Chimoff, a past president and one of the May 23 event’s three cochairs, said he regards the ads from fund-raising journals included in the 1929 capsule as a window into history. They remind him of merchants no longer in business and people long gone. They also reveal the way people lived, shopped, and worked in the early 1900s. He said he hopes people will feel connected to the rich history of MCJBY when they look backward from 2049 at the items being buried today.

(The original copper box time capsule, along with copies of its contents, are on display at MJCBY. The original contents have been archived at the MetroWest JHS on the Aidekman campus in Whippany.)

The new capsule includes historical documents, a copy of Forgosh’s book The Jews of Morris County, a memory book, the sisterhood’s 1984 cookbook, an empty bottle of scotch from a recent kiddush courtesy of the men’s club, religious school class photos, and other items selected and/or donated by various synagogue groups. Future historians will find a recording of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur melodies, a DVD of interviews with members done for the 100th anniversary, a tiny Torah scroll given to children at Simhat Torah festivities, and fund-raising paraphernalia — that’s where the Frisbees and T-shirts come in.

This time, synagogue leaders have documented the contents and are providing explicit instructions about the location of the capsule, and have even made plans to create access to the burial site in the event that the dirt floor is ever cemented over.

“We want to inspire the next generation. It’s about being part of something that was here before them and will hopefully be here after them,” said Stone, another event cochair.

The time capsule was the crowning event of the 80th anniversary celebration, which also included a candle lighting and choir performances. Among the more than 300 attendees were such dignitaries as U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Morris Township Committee member Bruce Sisler, Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, and Morris Township Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush.

After a ceremony in the sanctuary, children led the parade of people to the area just outside the room where the time capsule will stay for the next 50 years, marked with a plaque.

“We want future generations to understand there was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that went into keeping this building alive and a lot of work and a lot of fund-raising,” said Linda Kornreich, a past president of the congregation who also cochaired the anniversary event. “Maybe it’s a little redundant to have every ad journal we found, but it kind of shows where we went and how we got here.”

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