The following story comes from a 1998 recording made for the NCJW Oral History Project. It doesn’t have anything to do with Friendship Park. It’s just a lovely Pittsburgh story I discovered while doing some research this evening. I felt compelled to share it.
The speaker is Ernest Light, a Holocaust survivor who came to Pittsburgh from Czechoslovakia in 1946 and started a wholesale clothing business on Fifth Avenue.
There is a lot of terminology in the story, but the only detail that is really crucial to know at the outset is that in a traditional synagogue, men and women sit separately.
“There was a shul close by on Washington Street. It was called Beit Hamedrash Hagadol. They had no rabbi. They had a so-called shames, a very knowledgeable and a very fine gentleman by the name of Mr. Rubb. He was an unusual man. He was a Survivor. His family perished during the Holocaust. One daughter survived… With the redevelopment, the shul was torn down. They built a new shul… and they built an apartment for him, too.
“He lived there with his family. He kept the shul going, because he really was a caring person. In the morning, he was the first one to open up the shul. He used to come in early in the morning. If anyone came in, any stranger came in, he right away approached him and he said, “Do you have a yahrzeit?” or “Can I help you in some way?” He had minyans every morning, every night, plus all the holidays. And most of the people had high regard for him because he was an unusual man. Despite all that what he lived through, he was kind, caring. I would call him almost a tzaddik. He was a very righteous person.
“I remember a case with him. It was a Thursday — usually Mondays and Thursdays they read the Torah. A lady walked into the shul, and the lady was distraught. He went over. ‘What is it?’ She said she had someone in her family who was very sick. She would like to make a mi shebeirach. And he said, “That’s alright.” When we were finished with the laning, he went and he called her up there, right in the front of the Torah, and he made a mi shebeirach. And he told me, he says, ‘Isn’t it wonderful that today there are still people left who believe in that, and they come to shul?’ It was a very touching thing for me. Because in a lot of ways he was very observant, but at the same time he was a realist. He knew that to survive in a place like that, an isolated place, you have to compromise.”