PEABODY – The city’s oldest shul, Congregation Sons of Israel, wished a long life to its 12 oldest members who are 90 and over by holding its first Nonagenarian Celebration last month.
On Feb. 5, about 80 family and friends gathered on Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic instead of at the Park Street shul – which dates back to 1909 – to hear from these oldest members and their families.
Those honored included: Irving Bacherman, 91, of Middleton; Harold “Hershie” Blass, 99, of Swampscott; Marcia Cohen, 92, of Peabody; Charlotte Gross, 90, of Peabody; Dorothy Katz, 91, of Salem; Anna Kirsner, 96, of Newburyport; Freda Kravetz, 91, of Peabody; Barbara, 92, and Mel Naseck, 95, of Peabody; Moe Sack, 94, of Salem; Morris “Maishe” Sharaf, 93, of Salem; and Roslyn Wiseman, 92, of Peabody.
“Really, these people tonight are really the backbone,” said Cantor Seth Landau.
“Many synagogues have older, mature members,” said the congregation’s president, Rosalyn Abrams, “but what is amazing about our nonagenarians is their attitudes toward life.”
First to be honored was Irving Bacherman, Abrams dad, and she read a statement for him. “As you can see, my connection to the shul extends well over 40 years,” Bacherman said in his remarks. Bacherman’s family joined around 1977 after the small shul downtown, Anshe S’Fard, on Littles Lane closed. In 1982, he became a board member at Sons of Israel.
Mark Blass, son of Harold “Heshie” Blass, spoke for his dad. “He’s 99 years old and he has both of his [COVID] vaccinations and I just want to say that he has been a great dad to me. He was a wonderful husband to my mother.”
Marcia Cohen’s best friend, Barbara Sigel, the shul’s corresponding secretary, praised Cohen, and the connection to the temple they shared. When services were in person, they sat next to each other and prayed. Sigel encouraged Cohen to sing and take an Aliyah when called to the ark.
“I’m very emotional for what you said about me,” Cohen said.
“My mom is a giver,” said Charlotte Gross’s daughter, Lisa Farber. “From her many years as a devoted member of Hadassah holding various positions, raising funds for the state of Israel, she is always been committed to helping others in various ways.”
“I love you all, I love the shul, I love the people in the shul, everybody’s so friendly, I just love the whole thing,” Gross said.
Dorothy Katz’s niece, Janet Lemnah, spoke about how her aunt was turning 92 on March 24. She and her late husband, George, volunteered at the Bedford VA and Katz served as president of the local Jewish War Veterans post prior to Gross. “She’s a loyal friend to many whose friendships have spanned a lifetime,” Lemnah said.
Board member Paul Ordman spoke for Anna Kirsner. The Peabody native attended the shul when she was young. Kirsner remains active with the Peabody shul “because she wants to get to her roots, and this is the place she grew up in and this is why she wants to support us.”
Freda Kravetz said when her family moved to Salem in 1956, they joined Sons of Israel. When the shul’s religious school closed in the 1970s, they joined Temple Ner Tamid so their son could attend Hebrew school. Eventually, they returned, and her husband was elected to the board. After he died in 1992, Kravetz was asked if she would like to take her husband’s place. “I was honored and immediately said ‘yes,’” Kravetz said. “This was my beginning of my love for the shul.”
Mel and Barbara Naseck were honored with some words from their son, Barry, who said their family have been regular members since 1970. “The shul has been a love of [my father] and my family ever since, except for a small hiatus to Florida in the 2000s.” The Nasecks have been married 61 years and the week of the celebration Mel celebrated his 95th birthday.
“My life would be empty without Congregation Sons of Israel,” Mel said.
“I think you are a great congregation, when somebody walks in, new, they suddenly feel so much at home,” Barbara said.
Abrams said Moe Sack, who was honored but not in attendance on Zoom, was known for his long involvement with the Jewish War Veterans.
Morris “Maishe” Sharaf spoke about raising a family of four with his late wife of 57 years, Helene, who died in 2010. They were founding members of Temple Ner Tamid. Sharaf joined Congregation Sons of Israel after his wife passed away. “This shul is where I have made new and very, very dear friends among the congregation, and I have tried to live a meaningful life,” he said.
Retired Peabody High teacher Leslie Garber spoke for her mother, Roslyn Wiseman, 93, who lives in an assisted living center in Peabody. Wiseman married her late husband, Aaron, in 1949. They moved to Lynn and then to Peabody in 1953. The couple, who were married for 70 years, had their love affair documented on the front page of The Salem News for Valentine’s Day 2020 just before the pandemic hit, Garber said. “Unfortunately, my dad passed away due to COVID in April 2020.”
Garber said her mother was unable to join the Zoom celebration because of macular degeneration. “I want to thank all of you for remembering her,” Garber said.