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Interfaith Vigil and Remembrance

by David Stryk

Last night’s interfaith vigil was a powerful evening of community unity and powerful comments from a wide array of religious leaders. Their comments were heartfelt and thoughtful. Beth Ahm was, as usual, fortunate to be represented by our Rabbi who likewise addressed a crowded synagogue. The end of the night included a candle lighting ceremony. I had the incredible honor of lighting a candle on behalf of Beth Ahm for Melvin Wax. Lighting a candle for an 88-year-old, whose life was cut short in synagogue was not easy. We all know how Mr. Wax died but I wanted to know about the life of the person who our congregation was collectively memorializing. I also wanted to make sure I shared with you the story of this gentleman's life (as described by the Washington Post). He would have been a welcome and warm addition to our congregation...or any congregation.

Melvin Wax was the first to arrive at New Light Congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood — and the last to leave.

Wax, who was in his late 80s, was among those killed when a gunman entered the synagogue Saturday and opened fire during Sabbath services. Fellow members of the congregation, which rented space in the lower level of the Tree of Life Synagogue, says Wax was a kind man and a pillar of the congregation, filling just about every role except cantor.

Myron Snider spoke late Saturday about his friend who would stay late to tell jokes with him. He said “Mel,” a retired accountant, was unfailingly generous.

“He was such a kind, kind person,” said Snider, chairman of the congregation’s cemetery committee. “When my daughters were younger, they would go to him, and he would help them with their federal income tax every year. Never charged them.

“He and I used to, at the end of services, try to tell a joke or two to each other. Most of the time they were clean jokes. Most of the time. I won’t say all the time. But most of the time.”

New Light moved to the Tree of Life building about a year ago, when the congregation of about 100 mostly older members could no longer afford its own space, said administrative assistant Marilyn Honigsberg. She said Wax, who lost his wife Sandra in 2016, was always there when services began at 9:45 a.m.

“I know a few of the people who are always there that early, and he is one of them,” she said.

Snider said Wax, who was slightly hard of hearing, was a pillar of the congregation. “He went Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, when there were Sunday services,” said Snider, a retired pharmacist. “If somebody didn’t come that was supposed to lead services, he could lead the services and do everything. He knew how to do everything at the synagogue. He was really a very learned person.”

Snider had just been released from a six-week hospital stay for pneumonia and was not at Saturday’s services.

“He called my wife to get my phone number in the hospital so he could talk to me,” Snider said. “Just a sweet, sweet guy.”

Sun, August 9 2020 19 Av 5780