New Light Congregation honors past, looks to future, with dedicated cemetery chapel
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CommemorationPreserving history and moving ahead

New Light Congregation honors past, looks to future, with dedicated cemetery chapel

Four years after the October 27, 2018 attack at the Tree of Life building, family, friends and New Light congregants recite Psalms, sing and remember while giving life to new space

Co-presidents Barbara Caplan and Stephen Cohen watch Rabbi Jonathan Perlman affix the mezuzah to New Light Memorial Chapel's doorpost. Photo by Adam Reinherz
Co-presidents Barbara Caplan and Stephen Cohen watch Rabbi Jonathan Perlman affix the mezuzah to New Light Memorial Chapel's doorpost. Photo by Adam Reinherz

One day after observing the yahrzeits of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger, New Light Congregation dedicated a memorial chapel and looked to the future.

Seated beside one another on Nov. 13, nearly 40 congregants and friends recited Psalms, sang and reminisced inside a former garage at New Light Cemetery in Shaler Township.

New Light co-president Stephen Cohen told attendees that when construction began on the space there was no ceiling, no stained-glass doors to the side and the greenish-hued carpet was merely dirt. In place of the former garage now stands a refashioned building that tells the congregation’s history and includes personal religious items belonging to New Light’s three members who were murdered four years ago during the attack at the Tree of Life building.

The new chapel, however, is “more than a memorial to our three congregants: Richard Gottfried, Daniel Stein and Melvin Wax,” Cohen said. “It is a memorial to all those who died and survived that day. It is a memorial to New Light itself. And on a more mundane level, it provides something that our cemetery has lacked for many years: a chapel for pre- and post-funeral gatherings and, most importantly, facilities for the mourners.”

Cohen acknowledged contractors, architects and several individuals and companies, including Eric Lidji, director of the Rauh Jewish Archives, Hunt Stained Glass Studios and Rome Monuments, who helped transform the space.

Co-president Barbara Caplan surprised Cohen by presenting him with a gift: a tzedakah box in recognition of the time he spent working on the project.

“You deserve a thank you for all that you did,” Caplan said.

A shofar used by Richard Gottfried, siddur used by Melvin Wax and haftarah study guide used by Daniel Stein honor New Light’s “religious heart.” Photo by Adam Reinherz

Along with tributes and remembrances, the Nov. 13 event included several songs. Barry Werber, a New Light congregant and survivor of the Oct. 27 attack, led attendees in “Yigdal,” a hymn that recalls Maimonides’ 13 Principles of Faith and is often sung at the beginning and close of Shabbat services. Rabbi Jonathan Perlman recited the “El Malei Rachamim,” a Jewish memorial prayer, and chanted the Hebrew names of the 11 Jews murdered in the Tree of Life building four years earlier.

Perlman told attendees that New Light’s dedicated site serves as more than a memorial.

“This will be our heritage for generations to come: a chapel that will reflect our history and reflect our most glorious days — when we were cut down and yet survived,” he said. “We ask God as He entered all holy spaces in the life of the Jewish people to also enter this space and to make it holy, so that we may use it to worship, teach and to congregate for many years to come.”

Before concluding the service, Caplan and Cohen joined Perlman in affixing an old mezuzah to a new doorpost.

The mezuzah, Caplan explained, was brought from the congregation's former home in the Sisterhood Room at Tree of Life.

As Cohen pressed the Hebrew scroll and its cover against the chapel’s entrance, Perlman sang “Haneshama Lach,” a tune composed by Shlomo Carlbach with Hebrew lyrics meaning, “The soul is Yours and the body is Your handiwork​. Have mercy on Your labors.”

Perlman then asked attendees to join him in reciting the “Shehecheyanu,” a blessing reserved for special occasions.

Attendees gather, eat and reminisce following Nov. 13 service. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Once the ceremony ended, Caplan invited attendees to the back of the room, where she and her husband, Harold Caplan, served bagels, lox, blintzes and salad.

She told the Chronicle that serving brunch reminded her of her mother, the late Miriam Zelman, who believed it was important to always have enough food for people to eat on-site and also to take home for later.

“We just had this very emotional dedication,” Caplan said of the Nov. 13 program. Offering everyone something to eat gives a “feeling of completion.”

“Look around,” she said, noting people talking and reminiscing. The meal was a way of “ending on a happy note. We should be together in love, and with a full stomach.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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