WHEELING, W. Va. — Nineteenth century circumcision tools, along with antique kosher slaughtering knives, are encased in glass in the dining room. An electric train set — rivaling that of the Carnegie Science Center — operates in the basement. And framed posters of Disney’s “High School Musical” hang on walls throughout the house.
Welcome to the home of Daniel Lowy, rabbi emeritus of Temple Shalom in Wheeling.
His home has been compared to a museum, exhibiting thousands of objects accumulated from all over the world, and reflecting the passions and diverse interests developed by a man throughout a life well lived.
The objects are eclectic: an aged leather Megilla scroll handwritten over a hundred years ago by Rabbi Harris Sacks, an ancestor of Lowy’s late wife, Zelda; a replica of a terracotta soldier from China; even Lowy’s own first baby shoes.
The objects themselves, however, do not tell his whole story. That can be found in the 82 volumes of scrapbooks filling the bookshelves in several rooms throughout his home.
Lowy, 84, affably admits he is a bit of a “meshugener,” meticulously collecting and chronicling, well, everything.
For the last 30 years, Lowy has devoted much of his time to creating the painstakingly organized scrapbooks, telling the tale of his life in photographs, souvenirs, and pages and pages of narrative that he still composes on a manual typewriter.
The large blue volumes, each engraved on the spine in gold script with “My Lifetime Book,” a product marketed by one of his congregants, Larry Good, contain everything from genealogy to travel logs to a history of Temple Shalom.
“I have typed up more than 5,000 pages,” Lowy said. “In these books is every place I’ve ever been, every person I’ve ever met and everything I have ever done.”
“I can re-live every experience I ever had,” he added.
Filed away in one of the books, for example, memorializing a trip to Israel he took in the early 1970s, Lowy has preserved not only the coins and postcards the typical traveler might save, but menus from Israeli restaurants, Jaffa orange wrappers, toilet paper samples and the cellophane packaging of some cheese he ate on his trip.
Not all of Lowy’s treasures from that trip are so mundane, though. Between pages of food wrappers and airline tickets, Lowy also has saved the signature of Menachem Begin that he acquired during a chance meeting at a coffee shop in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
Lowy says he was motivated to begin chronicling his life story in 1981, when three of his former classmates from the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York all died prematurely of cancer.
“I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous. I could go at any time. I better do something about it,’” Lowy recalled.
So, he began chronicling.
Born in the Bronx in 1925, Lowy served as rabbi at a small congregation in Michigan before settling in Wheeling in 1976. He became rabbi emeritus there in 1997, following heart surgery.
“I’ve always been a small-time rabbi,” he said. “I never aspired to be a big time rabbi.”
Still, he has made his mark.
In addition to serving as rabbi at Temple Shalom, he taught comparative religion at Wheeling’s Mt. DeChantal Academy for 32 years. He has served as the Jewish chaplain for the Ohio Valley Medical Center. And he has served on the Wheeling Human Rights Commission since its inception.
Lowy has also written a 175-page volume on the history of Jews in Wheeling called “Small Can be Beautiful,” and is working on a second volume, which will be entitled “And This is the Rest of the Story.”
Lowy and his wife, Zelda, who passed away in 2003 on their 48th wedding anniversary, both loved to travel, and he has continued to travel since her death. He has been to Israel eight times. He has had a special meeting with the Pope in Italy. He spent 18 days on a boat on the Yangtze River in China.
Lowy is the father of Debbie Goldberg, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, and Judah Lowy, of Columbus. He has eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
“The point is, I always kept busy inside the temple, and outside the temple,” he said. “But the thing I’m busiest with now, is constantly adding to the Lifetime books,” he said.
While the collections of family photographs, Judaica and travel souvenirs do not seem out of the realm of the ordinary for an 84-year-old man, what about all those “High School Musical” posters?
“I love ‘High School Musical’,” he said. “I love ‘High School Musical’ I, II and III. I went wild over it.”
Lowy says he found meaning in the message of the films.
“The movies are saying very clearly, if you want to be a success in life, the most important thing you have to get a handle on is your relationship with the opposite sex, and marriage. Also, it’s watching the process of two young people falling in love, and it’s so beautiful. Meanwhile, everyone around them is trying to destroy their relationship.
“I said to my congregation, if I was the rabbi of the congregation, I would sit you all down at 6 p.m. on Kol Nidre, to watch ‘High School Musical.’ I’m meshugener over this. If ever there was a morality play for young people and their parents, it’s ‘High School Musical.’”
Lowy acknowledges that some of his passions are unusual, but is motivated to continue chronicling and collecting so that his identity may be preserved by what he will eventually leave behind.
“I feel one thing for sure,” he said. “If I was to leave this world tomorrow, people would know who I am, what I am and what role I played in the community.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)