YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – What began in a small closet on the first floor of Youngstown’s oldest Jewish temple has become a project of historical significance.
Documents and artifacts have been found dating to when it was built in 1914, creating a historical timeline not only of the city’s Jewish community but of Youngstown itself.
The historical preservation process at Congregation Rodef Sholom began shortly after Sarah Wilschek became executive director two years ago.
As Wilschek looked around the 107-year-old synagogue, she found other historical items hidden away, one of which now hangs outside her office.
“This is probably one of my favorite finds. It is the original markup of what the building was supposed to look like in 1914,” she said.
So, Wilschek put everything into two rooms and brought in graduate students from Youngstown State University’s history department to document and categorize it all.
“We found the original blueprints to the building. We found the deed to our plot of land in Tod Cemetery in 1912 signed by Volney Rogers. We found messages from some of our rabbis, from past presidents of the United States of America, letters to our sisterhood from Helen Keller,” Wilschek said.
YSU student Jacob Harver’s favorite item is a small, portable slide projector, the film strips of which were accompanied by records or cassettes.
“So before the days of YouTube, they would use this to educate their students,” Harver said.
YSU student Hannah Klacik is handling all the synagogue’s fine art, including all the stained glass. She’s up to 135 pieces and counting.
“Taking pictures, putting it all on a spreadsheet so eventually, [Wilschek] can look through and kind of get familiar with what they have. They have so much,” Klacik said.
One of Wilschek’s most personal finds is her grandparents’ marriage record.
“My grandma’s from Youngstown. My grandfather was from Milwaukee,” Wilschek said.
Once the documenting is finished and digitized, Wilschek hopes what they found will be used.
“We could be a place where people could come and research the history of the Jewish rust belt, get an idea of who we were,” Wilschek said.
Some of the other items found were etchings of stained glass, believed to be from when the synagogue was built, that were never completed. Plus, two panes of stained glass that, as far as anyone knows, were never used.