PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The recent demolition of the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland presented an opportunity to open a time capsule.
It was contained in the cornerstone of the building originally constructed as the second synagogue for the Tree of Life.
The capsule was opened Monday morning as members, past and present, of Tree of Life and Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, gathered for an important moment in their congregational history.
Ben Forman remembers attending services there when he was a boy.
“I came here when I was 13 or 14 years old and I do have fond memories because this was the second congregation of Tree of Life,” he said. “The first one was in downtown Pittsburgh originally.”
Encased in the building’s cornerstone was a metal box full of historic documents put there in 1906.
There was a little water damage to some of the items in the box. That means it will be a bit longer before some of the items can be read says Eric Ledji. He is the Director of Jewish Archives at the Heinz History Center. He was the man who got to sort through the contents of the box.
“I don’t want to unfold this because this is wet, but I believe this is a Jewish calendar that helps you understand what the different prayers are as you are moving through the Jewish year,” he said.
There were old Pittsburgh newspapers, bank deposit books, some letters and envelops.
Point Park University owned the playhouse and had been in conversation with Tree of Life for several years after they decided to tear the Oakland building down.
“We were very pleased as I say to be able to work with them,” said Point Park University President Paul Hennigan. “We have been doing that for a couple of years as we anticipated the deconstruction of this building. I think it is a truly special day to be able to share in their joy and their history.”
Finding items that are 113 years old is a strong reminder of the role Tree of Life has played in the lives of many Jews in Pittsburgh for many years.
“They had this long history before and it sort of suggest that they will have this long history after,” said Ledji. “It’s just wonderful to be able to help them have that moment of being able to connect to a piece of their past at this particular moment in their present.”
But there was more than just Jewish history inside the box.
There also was a piece of Pittsburgh history.
There was a green Heinz pickle pin and Tree of Life Executive Director Barb Feige was ecstatic.
“That was quintessential Pittsburgh,” she said. “I think it was the most surprising find in the box. And it was just lovely. It was not plastic. We don’t know what it is, but it would not be plastic so it is either some painted glass or ceramic or something along those lines, but it was delightful to find.”
Feige is hopeful that once the items are fully dry, they will find one more thing in the stack of papers and books and documents.
“I would love to have a membership list from 1906 and be able to trace the families down to our current members to other Pittsburghers and to be able to follow up with them and see what their remembrances are.”