What's in a name? Lots, if you think about it. How many kids are named Fanny or Fagel these days? Both are names of the past, names filled with strength and meaning. Say the name Fanny, for example, and immediately one recalls the famous comedienne Fanny Brice or the culinary master Fanny Farmer. If you lived around here in Bexley, one would add Fanny Shkolnik.
When Fanny Shkolnik passed away last week, it marked more than the death of a stalwart of Agudas Achim Congregation for generations; it signaled demographic change prevalent in the Columbus Jewish community. Referring to her as Fanny is in itself strange. Those who came to know and respect her always knew her as Fagel, her Jewish name.
Fagel Shkolnik was matriarch of a family devoted to success of the congregation. Long a widow, she watched her son Steve ascend to become president and later chairman of the board at the synagogue. His sister and brother were also involved in their synagogues. That family represented a constant that has ceased to exist in our area. They were members of a time when next generations remained in town, each creating a special niche, each contributing to improvement of local Jewish life. These were Shkolniks, Schottensteins, Yenkins, Wexners, Rubens, Cabakoffs, and countless others. They were of an age when families built on a heritage established by its prior generations.
As Steve sat in shul this past Saturday for Shabbat services, that model was clearly of a past time. His mom would not be coming in to sit by him at 10:30. Instead, sitting with his grandchildren from out of town, it was clear that the multigenerational families of past times are shrinking in size. It was strange not seeing Fagel take her place.
This paradigm shift is not entirely new to Columbus. Moments after prayers ended, Zina Furman bid farewell to members of the congregation that had been her spiritual home since arriving from the Soviet Union thirty three years before. Here she lived with her late husband, Alex. Here she built a family, worked, and sadly, buried Alex. She is leaving to join daughters and grandchildren settled in Florida.
The time of multigenerational families remaining in town is of a bygone era. Still, the ending of that epoch is not sad.
One generation leaves and another arrives. Last Friday night at Agudas Achim over 120 participants joined in a program of Sabbath prayers and a Sabbath meal. If continuity of specific families will cease to identify Columbus, it is being replaced by a robust corps of incoming, new families. Agudas Achim’s chapel was filled with joyous singing of happy parents joined by excited children -- new times have arrived.
The Pew Report bemoans the future of Jewish life in America. It predicts that with the exception of the Orthodox contingent, the survival of the Jewish community will end within decades. That doom and gloom is belied by families as those that attended synagogue this past Friday night.
The period of multigenerational families may be waning, but the future of Columbus Jewry remains vibrant.