In 1948, the State of Israel was born, and the Jews of Claremont opened the doors of their very own synagogue, a white brick building that had once been an elementary school. They named it Temple Myer-David after two Claremonters who died in World War II, Myer Satzow and David Blumberg. The name appeared prominently over the door.
Members of the congregation attended services on Friday nights and Jewish holidays. Their children and grandchildren attended religious school and at age thirteen recited traditional blessings in celebration of their bar (or bat) mitzvah –“son (or daughter) of the commandments.” The eternal light symbolizing God’s constant presence shone above the ark, and the memorial tablet at the rear of the sanctuary listed the names of deceased parents and other relatives of temple members. Each year, on the anniversary of the person’s death (yahrzeit in Yiddish), the lamp next to the person’s name was lit.
Sixty-six years later, this past May, I went back to Claremont for a bookstore “reading” from Claremont Boy: My New Hampshire Roots and the Gift of Memory. A man named Halford Jones introduced himself and asked if he could interview me for the local community television station next time I was in town. I said I would be glad to do so and sent him an email when the Fiske Free Library invited me to drop by in September.
As I drove up to the library, I remembered spending many hours there when I was in high school. My first question upon entering was, “Where’s the World Book Encyclopedia?” My host mentioned something about “changes” in recent years. I wasn’t really surprised. Nowadays when students need information for a school paper, they just go online.
The turnout for the reading wasn’t large, but the discussion was lively. A woman from Cornish said she had heard that after World War II, a gathering took place at someone’s house in Claremont to discuss building a synagogue. As she understood it, several men made pledges, one for $5,000. Did I know anything about that?
I did not know about such a meeting, but it had the ring of truth. I explained, however, that they didn’t “build” the building on Putnam Avenue. My father had attended grade school there long before the First World War. As for the fundraising, five thousand dollars sounded like a lot of money for those days, but if it did happen, was it my father? I’ll never know.
It was a bright, sunny day, and Halford suggested we have our interview on the steps of the synagogue. I hadn’t been there in a long time, and I hardly recognized the building. It is still brick but red, not white. I wondered what other changes have been made inside, but the door was locked despite the fact that this was a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Questions went through my mind. Does the eternal light still burn in the sanctuary? Is the memorial tablet still there? Does anyone keep track of the yahrzeit dates? Who turns on the lamps next to the names of my parents and grandparents? And, most important, why is the door locked? Has the community reached the point when there no longer ten Jewish adults, the required number for a minyan (the quorum necessary for a Jewish service)?
We finished the interview, and as I looked more closely at the building I realized that the name “Temple Myer-David” is nowhere to be seen. Maybe someone forgot to put it back after they sanded the white paint off the brick walls, but I felt a tinge of regret. I should be paying more attention to this part of my past. What’s a synagogue without a name for all to see?
Then I looked up and felt better when I saw a familiar symbol dating from 1948, the Star of David. It isn’t the building it once was, but Temple Myer-David still stands.