Several months ago I called Temple Beth El in Eureka, California. I told them about my project and explained I visit Eureka fairly often for business and suggested that perhaps we could coordinate so that on one of my visits I might share the Moshe Rynecki story and my quest for my great-grandfather’s lost art with their congregation. They seemed interested and a plan was put in motion to find a date for my visit.
I am not a member of Temple Beth El, but my call to the Temple was not exactly a cold call to the synagogue. I knew before I phoned that grandpa George (Moshe’s son) was involved in the formation of Beth El. What I did not understand when I made the call was that not only was grandpa George part of the Beth El community, but that he was once the President of the Jewish Community of Humboldt County in 1954 and that he was instrumental in the push for the community to establish a Temple in the city of Eureka.
The Temple is a lovely building and, interestingly, is just down the street from the home grandpa George built in the late 1950s-early 1960s. My father and I are certain grandpa found the land for the Temple as he took a stroll around the neighborhood or while on his drive into work. The property is that close to where the family lived. The property was purchased outright by the original founders and was built without a loan. This is thanks to grandpa George (he died in 1992) who insisted the building be built out of cash. Those who know and remember this detail fondly thank grandpa with the nickname, “no mortgage” George.
It turns out my family’s ties to the building itself and Temple Beth El are deeper than the purchase of the land and the building of the structure (which, it was pointed out to me yesterday, was done with the finest nails and which used redwood bearing no knots). The Temple’s first Torah was one that came as a survivor of the Holocaust from Czechoslovakia. And, in fact, my father retrieved this Torah from San Francisco airport when it arrived in the late 1960s and personally drove it north to deliver it. This photo shows Rabbi Naomi Steinberg speaking with my father, Alex Rynecki, about the Torah and how my father delivered it to Temple Beth El. There is also a framed certificate on the wall that tells the history of the Torah.
The building of the Temple and the delivery of the very special Torah to the congregation are very important and personally meaningful to me, but there was one other item at the Temple yesterday that really moved me and made me feel like the project had, in a way, come home. On the bimah is an electric menorah (which grandpa George commissioned to be created) and at the base of a menorah is a plaque which reads: “In Memory of Moshe Rynecki, Scholar, Artist, Martyr, killed during World War Second, together with Six Million of his brothers and sisters, IV [April] 1967.