Collection of Jewish books keeps volunteer’s memory alive
BooksDoing a mitzvah

Collection of Jewish books keeps volunteer’s memory alive

Laura Fehl's Jewish literary trove helps preserve her story

In Laura Fehl's memory, her friends spent Sept. 10 volunteering. Photo courtesy of Elinor Nathanson
In Laura Fehl's memory, her friends spent Sept. 10 volunteering. Photo courtesy of Elinor Nathanson

A friendship forged at Temple Sinai will allow members to enjoy hundreds of Jewish books. The literary collection, which formerly belonged to longtime volunteer Laura Fehl, was delivered to Temple Sinai last month by her friends.

The schlep was bittersweet, Suzan Hauptman and Sheree Lichtenstein explained.

After Fehl, a past board member and Women of Temple Sinai president, died in April, Hauptman and Lichtenstein visited her house.

“Everywhere we looked were books — not just one or two thrown on the floor, but shelves of books, everywhere,” Hauptman said.

There were leatherbound chumashim, volumes of the Talmud and hundreds of publications about Jewish grief, observance and the holidays.

“As we were driving home that night, we said we have to do something with those books,” Hauptman said.

Hauptman and Lichtenstein spoke with Fehl’s family, then reached out to Temple Sinai about possibly accepting Fehl’s collection.

“The board was 100% behind us,” Hauptman said. “They didn’t know if there would be a dedicated space, but they said they could definitely incorporate many of the books into the library and the children’s library.”

Temple Sinai felt like a “proper home for the books,” Lichtenstein said. “Laura had been very involved with Temple, and Temple was her family. It was her passion.”

A team of Laura Fehl’s friends pass books. Photo courtesy of Elinor Nathanson

Through the years, Fehl was active with Women of Temple Sinai, intergenerational activities and cooking programs.

“Whenever anyone new came into Temple, she would make sure they felt welcome and found a place,” Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein was introduced to Fehl by Hauptman almost 18 years ago at Temple Sinai.

“We became a group, a girls club, supporting each other in our day-to-day life and through our divorces,” Lichtenstein said.

“We became chosen sisters,” Hauptman said. “We were there to support each other through good times and bad times.”

Although their bond was remarkably close, Hauptman and Lichtenstein learned that Fehl gave others similar comfort and attention.

“Through shiva, we realized that she really made everyone feel like they were her best friend. You don’t find that,” Hauptman said.

After Fehl’s death, her two “chosen sisters” desired to perpetuate Fehl’s legacy and values. “Teshuva, tzedaka and learning Torah was the way she lived her life,” Hauptman said.

It was also important to Fehl that her grandson have a breadth of Jewish wisdom, Hauptman added: “She wanted to teach him all the things she had in herself.”

With permission from Fehl’s family, Hauptman and Lichtenstein organized a group of 15 friends who traveled to Fehl’s home on Sept. 10. Weaving their way through narrow staircases and tight spaces, the volunteer corps spanned three floors. From hand to hand, the team passed nearly 1,000 books in small batches.

The “bucket brigade” ensured people with limited mobility wouldn’t be burdened, Hauptman said: “Nobody had to move much. Nobody had to go up and down steps. Everybody just passed a small collection of books to the next person in line.”

Two volunteers, positioned on the porch, assembled boxes. Other volunteers helped package, load and transport them to Temple Sinai.

In the coming weeks, the collection will be culled. Many of the books will remain at the synagogue, while some will be donated to neighboring institutions, Hauptman said.

Squirrel Hill resident Elinor Nathanson was among those who volunteered on Sept. 10. She described the experience as a “beautiful way of honoring Fehl’s memory.”

There’s a concept of a “living legacy,” Nathanson said. “Judaism keeps people alive through good deeds.”

That’s the hope, Lichtenstein said.

“After the books are sorted, they will be stickered with a tag indicating where they came from,” she said.

That way, whenever someone picks up one of the books, “even if they don’t stay at Sinai, people could still hold a piece of Laura,” Hauptman added. “She was always a part of everybody, and we want her to be a part of you, too.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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