After 130 years, synagogue down to 1 member - East Valley Tribune: News

After 130 years, synagogue down to 1 member

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Posted: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 12:22 pm | Updated: 2:55 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

POCOMOKE CITY, Md. — It was obvious Marc Scher was uncomfortable talking about a decision he made.

This year, he told friends and family the Congregation of Israel synagogue would not hold high holy days services that would have been observed the third week of September.

Without interruption for almost 130 years, the Jewish community in Pocomoke City has observed Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and nine days later, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Now, on his watch, he said, a tradition dear to his heart will be broken.

A decade ago, he knew this day would come. What he didn't know is that he would also be the last Jew standing, the only one in town of a congregation that was formed almost 130 years ago in Cape Charles. Of the two other Shore congregations, Salisbury and Ocean City, Pocomoke's is the oldest.

"There were quite a few Jews in the area years back. A lot of Jewish immigrants settled in this area," Scher said. "A lot of Jews, like my family, came from Lithuania during the Bolshevik Revolution, pre-World War I."

Having 60 people at services in a synagogue that could hold about 70 people wasn't bad, he said. Then things started to change. As the years passed, older members died and the younger generations left.

"Before I was born, there was a full-time rabbi here. I was 12 when they stopped weekly services," Scher said. "Then we found ourselves without the 10, so we started counting women in our synagogue (as a minyan), maybe 20 years ago, because we couldn't come up with 10 men."

Sometime between the passing years, Scher realized an end of a way of life was finally at hand.

"When you see the names on the memorial tablets, it brings back memories of the good times, when everybody was around," Scher said. "When my father passed away in 1996, that's when Abe Spinak started talking about 'How do we close this synagogue?' His son, Barry, said, 'No, we'll try to keep it open.' "

Then, over the following decade, Barry Spinak and Scher joined forces to keep the congregation alive.

But in March, Spinak moved to Washington state. Scher found himself alone.

"Without Barry, his knowledge and help, I can't do this," Scher said softly. "Even our rabbi said it was more of a feeling of community when Barry was here. She said she knew it is a really difficult thing to do alone."

It was Spinak's departure that really put things in perspective for Scher. Without him to share the considerable work, he felt he was spread too thin, with his own business demands and family, to undertake it alone.

Scher made calls to the few who routinely came to the annual service, telling them it was the end.

"People weren't really surprised. Many didn't know Barry had moved, and that was a shock," he said. "So now, here we are. This is a big decision, and we are not doing anything this year. It doesn't look good for next year. But we are not, right now, just ready to sell."

Yet it will still be an adjustment for Scher.

"You know, if you told me in the '60s, when I was a kid, that one day I'd be the last Jewish man in Pocomoke — and I'm looking at the synagogue full of people — I'd say 'You're crazy.' But that's what it came down to," he said. "It's sad to say, most of our funds are donations (in memory) of people who have died. When that's your biggest fundraiser, that's not a good thing. It's just like that's a part of life, too — nothing can go on forever."

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