By Marla Cohen
It is always a little sad and bittersweet when a Jewish Institution closes the doors for the last time. So it is true for the Bess and Paul Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford as it shuts down its Gabb Road location to morph into its new and exciting adventure on Bloomfield Avenue, merging with Hebrew High School of New England to become New England Jewish Academy.
As an alumnae and a former faculty member, it was an eerie feeling to walk through the silent corridor of the Hebrew Academy, past stacks of boxes and a blank wall that held the class photographs of prior years. I missed seeing my old classmates’ “mug shots” smiling down at me.
In a room near the elevator there is a wall dedicated to Life Members of the Women’s Organization of the Yeshiva of Hartford. This group was dedicated to supporting the school in a variety of ways from volunteering to raising funds. The little metal “signs” each held a name. As I quickly scanned the names, my mother’s name popped out, as did the mother of my oldest friend.
We then climbed the steps to the second floor. Again, we were faced with blank wall. Previously, there were hundreds of bronze plaques screwed on the board. Each plaque was a loving memory of a family ‘s yahrzeit. The small tokens are an echo of the history of the Jewish community of Greater Hartford. The bronze tablets are now in plastic bins lined up on the floor.
On the third floor is the “staging” area containing many special pieces. Lining one wall is a series of large wooden boards. On each board is the year, inscribed with the names of the Women’s Organization and gold letter names of the members. These boards lined the walls of the cafeteria/auditorium on Cornwall Street. I recognized many of the names as the early “movers and shakers” and a lot of women I knew personally.
In another corner are a lot of framed school memorabilia, art projects and miscellany. On the floor were two huge books that contained water-colored dedication pages hand-calligraphed with the names of the donors. One book dated back to 1950, the other a little later. Also next to the books is a large brass Chanukiya (Menorah). I was reminded of Chanukah celebrations, plays and choral groups; of Mrs. Kahn and Mrs. Perkel and Mrs. Newman; and a sense of community.
Perhaps the most poignant thing I saw in that room was a photograph of a young soldier who was killed in 1944 in the Aleutian Islands. He was a Polish immigrant, graduate of the Yeshiva of Hartford and Weaver High School. He left the money from his insurance policy to the school. The kindergarten class was dedicated in his memory that year.
As the school begins its next incarnation as the New England Jewish Academy, those of us who have already passed through, wish you “B’hatzlacha,” our best wishes. Follow in the footsteps of those who came before and may you go from strength to strength.
Marla Cohen was member of Yeshiva of Hartford’s Class of 1965.