On a hunch, Rabbi Stephen Steindel walked to the bookshelf and pulled down a volume titled, “The Pledge,” by Leonard Slater. He opened the hardback book and turned to page 24.
Sure enough, his memory served him well. Among the 19 men attending a meeting in the Manhattan home of New York industrialist and Zionist Rudolph Sonneborn on July 1, 1945, which led to critical arms and support for the future state of Israel, was an un-named man from Pittsburgh.
Then he pulled down a book on John F. Kennedy, which contained Steindel’s own handwritten notes.
If his wife Lisa wasn’t there, the now-retired rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom might have spent all day thumbing through books on the third floor of the Beacon Street synagogue.
And why not? Until very recently, they were his books.
As a parting gift to the congregation he served for 23 years, Steindel donated his book collection — some 5,000 to 6,000 volumes in all — to Beth Shalom. They will be housed on the third floor of the synagogue in a room renamed the Steindel Rabbinic Library.
“It includes everything I had here [at the synagogue] plus what I had at home, which was my off-site working library,” Steindel said.
The library is a collection of subjects from volumes of the Talmud to biographies to collections of Jewish literature, to nonfiction. Many of the books first found their way into the collection because Steindel found them interesting and thought he would get around to reading them some day.
In most cases he did. Lisa pulled out a few volumes to show the notes her husband made inside in both English and Hebrew. Those notes will remain part of the collection.
The Steindels approached the congregation within the past year about making the donation, Executive Director Lee Levitt said.
“It will be an open room for congregational families to enjoy,” Levitt said, “but the books will not circulate outside the congregation.”
The Steindels, who have already moved to the Boston area, were in Pittsburgh this past weekend for a three-day tribute at the congregation.
The Steindels received written tributes from Sen. Arlen Specter, U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy and Jason Altmire, Gov. Ed Rendell, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and State Rep. Dan Frankel and the Pittsburgh City Council, among others.
Lisa Steindel was also honored by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, where she worked as executive director.
Steindel’s retirement leaves Michael Werbow as the rabbi of the congregation, Levitt said. The Steindels’ son, Avi, is staying on as Beth Shalom’s youth director.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)