PITTSBURGH JEWISH CHRONICLE — Matthew Falcone seen one thing uncommon throughout the ultimate walk-through of a current sewer substitute undertaking at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Falcone, the congregation’s new president, spied a big steamer trunk, battered and coated in mud. Partially obscured by blankets, it sat on a subterranean flooring of the synagogue, containers piled round it.
When the big, early Twentieth-century trunk was opened, Falcone found it was crammed to the brim with packages wrapped in brown paper.
“They had been completely filthy, coated in what I’m assuming is a century’s value of coal ash,” he mentioned.
When a number of of the packages had been taken from the darkish basement to be examined in higher mild, Falcone was stunned to see they contained the sermons of Rabbi J. Leonard Levy, who served the congregation from 1901 till his premature loss of life in 1917.
Every package deal was cataloged, marked by quantity and collection.
“Any individual had put an incredible quantity of thought and care into making an attempt protect them,” mentioned Falcone.
He additionally seen one thing attention-grabbing in regards to the trunk’s location within the sewer: It sat under the congregation’s ark and bimah on the ground above.
“It’s fascinating to suppose that simply once you assume you already know each nook of the constructing and what’s there… this has been a complete revelation,” Falcone mentioned.
The trunk and its contents at the moment are being studied by Rodef Shalom’s archivist, Martha Berg.
Up to now, Berg has made her approach by the primary third of the big container. What she has discovered to this point has been largely duplicate copies of sermons. The archivist mentioned she already had 399 of Levy’s sermons in her database; of all of the newly discovered sermons, she added only one, bringing the full to the rounder 400.
As a part of Levy’s contract, Berg defined, the congregation revealed pamphlets that contained all his sermons throughout his tenure on the synagogue.
“That was a traditional factor, for rabbis to be revealed,” she famous.
Berg mentioned she had been fascinated by the rabbi for years due to his progressive stance on social justice points within the early a part of the Twentieth century, and the truth that he was a pacifist.
“Like most rabbis, he would preach on present matters,” she mentioned. That one newly found sermon was about girls, written throughout a time when the rabbi was transitioning from a extra conventional perspective on girls’s roles towards girls’s rights, “which in a while, within the 19-teens, he was fairly lively in. So, I feel it’s important,” Berg mentioned.
Cataloging what was saved within the chest might sound a number of work for a bit reward, mentioned Berg, but it surely helps to color a extra full image of the rabbi’s time on the synagogue.
“Rabbi Levy was actually important in Reform Judaism within the early Twentieth century,” she mentioned. “He was in all probability one of many 4 or 5 best-known rabbis at the moment within the US, and had a world status.
“Now,” Berg continued, “nobody is aware of very a lot about him. I feel that something we are able to do to resuscitate his status and inform new tales about him is absolutely invaluable.”
Noting its proximity to the ark, Rabbi Aaron Bisno, the congregation’s senior rabbi, in contrast the discover to the works stored on the Cairo Genizah — a repository of some 400,000 Jewish manuscript fragments and holy books that contained the title of God and subsequently couldn’t be discarded underneath Jewish regulation.
He famous that Levy led the congregation by uncertain instances, and was “the rabbi who would transfer them from downtown to this property east of town — it was an enormous gamble to maneuver east,” Bisno mentioned.
Bisno surmised that Levy and the congregation might have been mirroring the messaging of the early Reform motion, which was establishing the subsequent iteration of Judaism.
“My definition of the Torah is that it’s the perfect efforts of the Jewish individuals at addressing and describing the human situation,” he mentioned. “Arguably, their thought was the newest sermon can also be a part of Torah writ massive, the latest interpretation.”
Along with Levy’s stance on social points, Bisno mentioned, the congregation might have contributed in additional delicate methods to the place of Reform Judaism in America: Rodef Shalom’s sanctuary faces north fairly than towards Israel, as had been the custom.
“In some methods, theologically, the early Reform motion was saying, ‘We’re within the Promised Land, we’re now not orienting ourselves towards Jerusalem. Our aspiration will be reached right here,’” mentioned Bisno.