My grandfather Steinfield, for whom I am named, died in Claremont on December 12, 1911. He is buried in Adath Israel Cemetery in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. My grandmother Steinfield died on October 23, 1943, more than ten years before Claremont acquired land on North Street for a Jewish cemetery. She is buried next to her brother and sister in the same West Roxbury cemetery as my grandfather, though in a different section for reasons I’ll never know.
I know those dates because they appear on my grandparents’ bronze memorial plaques which, for as long as I can remember, were part of the large tablet located on the rear wall of the Temple Meyer David sanctuary in Claremont. Each year, on the anniversary of my grandparents’ deaths, the light next to the plaque would be lit, and my father would go to the temple for yahrzeit, the Yiddish word for observing the anniversary of a loved one’s death. Starting in 1952, after my bar mitzvah, he took me with him.
My paternal grandparents were joined on the sanctuary wall by my maternal grandparents, Lillian and Maurice Firestone, in 1960 and 1970; and by my parents, Frank and Irene Steinfield, in 1957 and 1998. Six plaques in all, which recently became homeless.
Temple Meyer David is no more. By September 20, 2020, the size of the congregation had dwindled to the point where the temple could no longer sustain itself. On that date, the membership voted to dissolve the temple corporation, and over the months since then, the winding down process has gone forward.
One part of that process is the Temple Meyer David Cemetery, the resting place of my parents and my Firestone grandparents. The other part is the building on Putnam Street (off Broad Street near the post office), which had once been a school. My father went there early in the twentieth century, and the Jews of Claremont bought the property in 1948.
Spearheaded by Claremonter Steve Borofsky, now a Manchester lawyer, the committee charged with winding up the two legal entities, the cemetery and the building, has completed its work. The cemetery will be in the safekeeping of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire in perpetuity, and the building has been sold.
This leaves the matter of the torah scrolls and other religious artifacts that have resided in the Meyer David sanctuary for close to 75 years. What will become of them remains to be decided.
But I can tell you what has become of my ancestors’ memorial plaques. In late June, Claremonter Ellen Usury, whose grandfather opened a butcher shop in Claremont more than a hundred years ago, let me know that she had the plaques, and asked if I would I like to provide a home for them. I said yes.
So now I have possession of six two by ten-inch plaques, each weighing nearly a pound. I suppose I own them, but I’m not sure. I took property in law school, but we didn’t cover memorial plaques.
What do I do with them? I suppose the answer is that I simply keep them in a safe place and pass them on to the next generation for safekeeping until they do the same.