Shnay: A congregation reborn, a pioneer passes
By Jerry Shnay Citizen Journalistemail@example.com June 14, 2013 8:40AM
Podwol | Supplied Photo
Updated: July 17, 2013 6:14AM
Sometimes it seems as if we pass our lives in a chaotic series of coincidental events — as if we were part of a gigantic pinball game, with uncounted metal balls bouncing off life’s bumpers and caroming off each other’s thoughts and memories.
So these words are about two events nearly 1,500 miles apart that are about both the religious and cultural life of Park Forest.
This Saturday, after 55 years as a vital part of the village, Conservative Jewish Congregation Am Echad will conduct its last morning service. Rabbi Sholom Podwol, who is retiring after 20 years as the congregation’s spiritual leader, will preside.
Religious leaders from other Park Forest houses of worship will attend and pay tribute to this gentle man, who, with his dry wit and deep wisdom, made himself a beloved figure in the community.
Last week, more than 200 people attended a dinner honoring Rabbi Podwol and his wife Dalia, who helped her husband lead services, guide the education of children in religious school and even has a black belt in tae kwon do.
The history of Congregation Am Echad mirrors life in Park Forest for almost the last 60 years.
In late 1956, the South Suburban Congregation was incorporated with some 25 people holding services at homes, the high school, Faith United Protestant Church and the Holiday movie theater.
In 1965, two years after the ground-breaking, the congregation’s home opened its doors at 160 Westwood Drive. During the next 13 years, it merged with two other synagogues to form Congregation Am Echad.
Sooner or later, the caroms of life take difficult angles. As with other local religious groups, membership declined over the decades. People move. People change. People die.
Early this year, the building was purchased by the Destined to Win Christian Center, which had been renting space in a synagogue in Chicago’s Hyde Park community.
This closing of any house of worship evokes an emotion. The last service followed by the last lunch, followed by tearful hugs and handshakes, will be followed by movers the following Monday, who will shift the essentials of the congregation just a few miles away.
Congregation Am Echad will not die. It will hold traditional Saturday morning services in B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom in Homewood, a congregation that evolved 15 years ago with the merger of Homewood’s Temple B’nai Yeuda with Temple Beth Sholom of Park Forest.
The same day the Podwols were being feted, it was learned that George Maeyama died in a Tucson, Ariz., hospital, surrounded by family members. He was 99, just five months short of his 100th birthday.
George and Josephine Maeyama were pioneer Park Foresters, moving to the village in 1949 when it was one of the few communities that rented to Asian-Americans. The family’s jewelry business in the old Park Forest Plaza shopping center morphed into George’s personal dream, a bookstore.
Maeyama’s became a literate and cultural center in the south suburbs, drawing authors such as Studs Terkel and Mike Royko to Park Forest for book signings.
In 1999, both George and Jo were inducted into the Park Forest Hall of Fame. Six years later, their son Robert, who rose through the ranks of the Park Forest Police Department from patrolman to police chief, also entered the Hall of Fame — marking the first parent-child generational bridge into the group.
So this month, we mark both the death of a friend and a new beginning. It is always so. The ball keeps bouncing off the bumpers of life.