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Kolot: A trip down Hartford’s memory lane

The Charter Oak Cultural Center on Charter Oak Avenue, the original home of Congregation Beth Israel.

By Barbara Gordon ~

On Sunday, June 24, 40 members and friends of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford took an incredible trip down memory lane. Organized by executive director Estelle Kafer and project manager Gale Shapiro, the tour through Hartford in an air conditioned coach bus began at 9:30 a.m. and returned at 1 p.m. Those three and- a-half hours were remarkable; touching and emotional; informative and thoughtprovoking, and filled with never-to-be forgotten reminiscing.
Our first stop was at the Charter Oak Cultural Center on Charter Oak Avenue, the original home of Congregation Beth Israel.
It was my first visit there and I was very impressed by the activities now offered in a building, which thanks to a group of history-minded individuals, was saved from demolition.
We drove past the site of my family business, the Bostonian Fishery, on the corner of Park and Main Streets, and I had to blink back tears as I envisioned my father, Yale Cohn and my husband Mark
and our son Andy rushing around on the saw-dust covered floor waiting on the many customers for whom the market was a weekly stop. The building was torn down several years ago.
My fellow travelers blurted out familiar places where old buildings still stood – or empty lots where businesses once thrived.

The former Emanuel Synagogue is now home to a Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Two of the most wonderful stops we made were at the former Emanuel Synagogue, and the Agudas Achim Synagogue on Greenfield Street near the former Weaver High School – my alma mater – and the high school from which so many of us had graduated. The Emanuel is now occupied by the warm and welcoming Seventh Day Adventist Church, whose leaders pointed out to us that they too observe their Sabbath on Saturday.
What a thrill to walk into the vestry where I had attended weekly Girl Scout meetings, to sit upstairs in the sanctuary and see the Stars of David and Hebrew lettering there. That in itself spoke volumes
about the churches that have since occupied our buildings. They showed great respect for our symbols, and so the lettering and the stained glass windows remain. While we were sitting in the sanctuary, Gale Shapiro played a tape of Cantor Arthur Koret’s voice and it filled the room and our hearts with memories of High Holiday services.
At the former Agudas Achim Synagogue, we were greeted warmly by Hispanic clergy, who couldn’t have been more hospitable. There, too, we were impressed by the respect shown for our traditions. The new worshippers maintained our symbols both on the stained glass windows and the bimah. Many of us pointed out to our tour guide that during recess on Yom Kippur we all gathered in Keney Park across from the synagogues until it was time to return to the temples for Neilah.

The former Agudas Achim Synagogue

We rode slowly by the Jewish cemeteries on Tower Avenue – amazingly well-kept, thanks to Henry Zachs, who funds the maintenance of these very important areas.
From Blue Hills Avenue to Albany Avenue to Westbourne Parkway, Northwest-Jones School; to Bedford Street and the Talmud Torahs – I’ll leave the rest of the descriptions to those of you who will be
joining us on our repeat trip on October 14 (morning and afternoon) and on a date to be announced in November. It’s a journey you won’t want to miss.

Barbara Gordon of West Hartford is president of the Jewish Historical Societyof Greater Hartford.
Readers are invited to submit original work on a topic of their choosing to Kolot. Submissions should be sent to editorial@jewishledger.com

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