Rabbi Daniel Lowy, rabbi emeritus of Temple Shalom in Wheeling, W.Va., died Thursday, Sept. 30, at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh following an extended illness. He was the longest serving spiritual leader in the 160-year history of that congregation. He was 85.
In his 21 years at Temple Shalom, Lowy, who also served several other congregations, established a reputation as a compassionate hands-on rabbi, performing every function from teaching, to community outreach, to designing the sets and playing the piano at the annual Chanuka performances.
He also built a strong presence in the greater Wheeling community, teaching comparative religion at Wheeling’s Mt. de Chantal Visitation Academy for 32 years, working as Jewish chaplain for the Ohio Valley Medical Center — visiting Jewish and non-Jewish patients alike — and serving on the Wheeling Human Rights Commission since its inception.
In fact, just before his death, Lowy received a letter from the commission, notifying him he had been unanimously re-elected to a new two-year term, according to his daughter, Debra Goldberg, of Mt. Lebanon.
“The point is, I always kept busy — inside the temple, and outside the temple,” Lowy told The Chronicle in an interview earlier this year. “But the thing I’m busiest with now, is constantly adding to the Lifetime books.”
Lifetime books are specially designed scrapbooks for people who record their own life stories or those of their families. Lowy had shelves full of Lifetime books in his home.
Born in the Bronx in 1925, Lowy grew up in a very secular household. In fact, he read his Torah blessings in transliteration during his bar mitzva and planned for a career in medicine when World War II broke out.
Lowy, who enlisted in the Navy against his parents’ wishes, was sent to the South Pacific, where, according his son, Rabbi Judah Lowy, his life underwent a transformative experience.
“He got involved with a Jewish chaplain and became interested [in Judaism],” Judah said, “so he decided to take care of people’s spiritual health rather than physical health.”
After the war, he enrolled in the rabbinic program at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, even though he knew little Hebrew.
“He battled,” Judah said. “He tried to get his knowledge of Hebrew up to a level where he could [do his graduate studies].”
And he succeeded. “He always did everything with flying colors,” Judah said.
Following his ordination in 1953, Lowy served congregations in New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Locally, he also was the rabbi at Beth Israel Congregation in Washington, Pa.
He came to Wheeling in 1976 and remained as its active spiritual leader until his retirement in 1997 following heart surgery.
“I’ve always been a small-time rabbi,” Lowy said in his Chronicle interview. “I never aspired to be a big-time rabbi.”
While he was the rabbi in Cumberland, Md., he met his future wife, Zelda, originally from Johnstown. They were married for 48 years. Together, they traveled the world, including Israel, Russia, Egypt and much of Europe. Lowy continued traveling after Zelda’s death in 2003, visiting Vietnam and Spain. He also spent 18 days on a boat on the Yangtze River in China.
According to Goldberg, her father saw his travels as a way to gather lessons for his religion classes back in Wheeling.
“Ecumenism was so big with him,” she said. “Everywhere we lived he lectured — for the Jewish Chatauqua Society, [and] he was on staff at … non-Jewish camps and Jewish camps.
Though Lowy lived his life as a Reform Jew, Goldberg became a Conservative Jew (she is a member and bookkeeper at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills) and Judah became an Orthodox rabbi, teaching at the Columbus, Ohio, Torah Academy.
Those differences, Judah said, informed his father, and his family, in positive ways.
“We’ve always been able to look beyond the labels and respect each other and understand our differences and accept there are differences,” Judah said, “but be able to live in the same world together, and we do.”
In addition to his children, Lowy is survived by a son-in-law, Harold Goldberg; a daughter-in-law, Navah Lowy; his grandchildren, Sara, Jeremy and Miriam (Mo) Goldberg, Rahel (Rabbi Asher) Block, Yaakov (Rivky) Lowy, Raphael Lowy, Elisheva Lowy and Ovadya Lowy, and his great-grandchildren, Yakov and Eliyahu Block and Devorah Lowy.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)