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98http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2012/05/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---05_25_2012
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 05_25_2012
05/24/2012 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
May 25, 2012

 

Amazing. Sunday morning I received an email from someone I didn’t know, about someone I never met. The writer explained that his grandmother was the daughter of Rabbi Dr. Henry Barnston, and that she was visiting in Houston. I read the email over and over to be sure I understood correctly that Dr. Barnston’s daughter (!) was visiting. The email read, “I know it’s short notice, but, as someone approaches 98 years-old,” she should fulfill her wishes to see the grave of her father.

                At once, I called the man who turned out to be a very thoughtful grandson. He confirmed everything that he wrote in his email. So, I told him that West Dallas Cemetery was open on Sunday, and that an attendant would be there when they arrived, just as he is every Sunday. I also told him where to find Dr. Barnston’s crypt in the mausoleum building. I know where he rests. When I came to Beth Israel to serve as Senior Rabbi, I visited Dr. Barnston’s and Dr. Schachtel’s graves to pay my respects. The grandson also asked me if we could meet. It just so happened that I would be at Beth Israel for a Confirmation Class rehearsal, so I invited them to meet me on North Braeswood at 1:15pm, in the sanctuary foyer.

                They were right on time. I welcomed them into the grand sanctuary foyer where we began our tour. The rabbi’s daughter was as spry as the day is young and eager to see everything on display. She had never seen Beth Israel on Braeswood; she left for California before 1968, when it was dedicated. But, there on the wall of the sanctuary foyer was her father’s portrait. She pointed at it and said, “There he is.” Then she pointed to Rabbi Schachtel and said, “Him, I knew.” Then she pointed to Rabbi Karff’s portrait and said, “Him, I didn’t know.” I was happy to tell her all about Rabbi Karff. She asked me why my portrait wasn’t there as well, so I explained that it’s only upon retirement. She figured I had a while ahead of me.

                Next, I showed them Barnston Hallway, and we walked down the hall to the portraits of Sisterhood presidents. She admired them and quietly recalled a few faces. We walked back and we entered the sanctuary where the lights were still on from our rehearsal earlier. She was so pleased. We talked about the Holman Street Temple. She drove by it earlier in the day with her grandson. We spoke about its interior, the stained glass windows she remembered and the stained glass ceiling. Then we made our way down the Karff Hallway and took in the earliest history of Beth Israel. She read the list of rabbis who served Beth Israel. She remembered that when her mother died, her father resigned as rabbi; but, upon returning to his position, he changed his name from the original Barnstein to Barnston, as we remember him now.

                She read down the list of past presidents, too. Ike Freed, she said, was someone she recalled. Other names were also familiar. She loved the Wolff-Toomim Gardens and enjoyed the history that brought her closer to the times she knew many years ago. Her grandson was looking at the Confirmation Class pictures when he called out, “Grandma, I found you!” We caught up with him and looked together at the picture. There she was, Vivien Barnston, in the class of 1930, standing just two rows in front of her father, the rabbi. Her grandson added that his grandmother remembered her childhood street, the house address, her phone number, and many of her friends’, too. It was touching, amazing, and profound that this wonderful lady, obviously loved by her family, came all the way to Houston, to pay her respects at her father’s grave and to see what became of the place she said good-bye to so long ago.

                Before they left the building, she dug into her purse to give me her card. She made it clear that the card contained only her name and phone number; to offer me her address was too personal, she told me. We didn’t have time to walk the whole campus, but the moments we shared brought this dear friend of Beth Israel full-circle. I don’t anticipate that she’ll make another trip to Houston, so I’m grateful that God gave her the strength to fill her wish to pay respects not only to her father at his grave, but also at the steps of what he participated in building.

                You and I talk about the legacy of Beth Israel, but it’s a moment like this one that makes our work to sustain our beloved congregation so important. The men and women of the past believed in Beth Israel’s future. They sustained it for their children and their grandchildren. Today, we must do the same and, by reason of strength, for our great-grandchildren, too. As Shabbat begins, appreciate the special synagogue that is yours, today, and what it must continue to be for generations to come.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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