Growing up in Stanton Heights in the 1950s, Louis Kushner thought his family situation was “normal.”
His father, Morris, was one of four brothers — including Fred, George and Jake — whose parents, Louis and Claire Kushner, emigrated from Russia in 1911. When the four brothers were grown, they each established households within two blocks of one another so that their own children, 12 cousins, could grow up together.
“We developed a real sense of family,” said Louis Kushner, who still lives in Pittsburgh. “They had each other’s backs in bad times.”
The family gathered for dinners, to celebrate holidays, and to just enjoy each other’s company.
“We thought it was normal,” Louis said. “What we found out late in life was that it was abnormal,” that most families are scattered, in different neighborhoods, if not different cities.
To honor the familial foundation laid for the Kushner progeny, the 11 surviving cousins have erected a particularly meaningful memorial at the Adath Jeshurun Cemetery where many of their ancestors lie: the stately marble water fountain, previously housed in the synagogue, which had been a gift of the family to the congregation in the 1950s.
It is a tribute to the four brothers, just as those brothers dedicated the fountain years ago to honor their own parents.
Adath Jeshurun Congregation was founded in 1916 as an Orthodox congregation. It held services in private homes until 1924, when the building of a synagogue was completed on the corner of Margaretta and East Liberty Boulevard in East Liberty. It became known as the “Margaretta Street Shul.”
When Jewish families began moving to other neighborhoods, the congregation’s membership dwindled, and the East Liberty building was sold in 1996. The congregation moved to Monroeville, but closed permanently in 2002.
In the mid-20th century, though, the synagogue was a vibrant center of Jewish life, and beloved by the Kushner family. The four brothers donated the water fountain as a tribute to their parents, and it stood as the focal point of the synagogue’s lobby for decades.
“If you went to the shul, the fountain is what you remember,” said Louis.
“After Yom Kippur, when we were breaking the fast after sundown, the first thing we were able to taste was the water out of that fountain,” recalled Joe Kushner, Louis’ cousin, who also still resides in Pittsburgh.
Four years ago, Louis and Joe hosted a family reunion in Pittsburgh. Nine of the cousins came, along with their significant others and many of their own children. While on a Molly’s Trolley tour of the city, the clan stopped at the building that once housed Adath Jeshurun, now home to a church, and in poor condition.
After the reunion, Louis and Joe got in touch with Pastor Delbert Harris of Inner City Ministries Tabernacle of Faith and asked if they could tour the building.
“He was enormously gracious,” said Louis. “We went into the building and toured it. It was in disrepair. When we walked into the entrance, there was nothing there except the fountain.”
The cousins decided they would ask permission to remove the fountain so that they could recondition it and erect it at the cemetery. Harris agreed they could take the fountain for no charge, as long as they repaired the wall once it was removed.
Now, four years later, after having the fountain fully restored, after working with a contractor, commissioning architectural drawings and collaborating with the cemetery committee, the fountain has been installed near the graves of the Kushner family.
“It’s in a prominent position,” said Joe. “It gives another piece of history to our family.”
Extended family members gathered last month for the installation, and a formal dedication occurred this week.
“We are grateful to the cemetery committee and to the church,” Louis said. “When I saw the fountain installed, it was nicer than I remembered.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at