PITTSTON —About 30 people took part Sunday afternoon in a tour of some significant religious sites in the Pittston area linked to the area’s Jewish community.
This is the ninth year for the event. Led by Jan Lokuta, the tour is always held on the Sunday of RiverFest weekend.
The tour began at St. John the Evangelist Church on William Street in Pittston with a discussion on architecture. Lokuta said that, to his knowledge, St. John’s is the only location in Pittston where the Star of David is displayed.
After St. John’s the first stop was the site of the former Temple Agudath Achim on Broad Street in Pittston. The building’s original design was patterned after a synagogue in Vienna, Austria.
The building underwent renovations in the 1950s or 1960s, Lokuta said, and now serves as a traditionalist Catholic Church, with Masses said in Latin, and displays a modern façade.
Lawrence Newman, executive director of the Diamond City Partnership Board, provided Lokuta with much of the architectural information on Temple Agudath Achim. Newman’s family belonged to the congregation, whose founders, he explained, were from what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The greatest synagogue in the empire was the Templegasse synagogue in Vienna. Templegasse was constructed in the 1850s and was an elaborate interpretation of Solomon’s Temple in the Holy Land.
The second stop was the Jewish Cemetery in West Pittston, which once served the congregations of Knesseth Israel in Duryea, Anshe Ahavas Achim in Exeter and Agudath Achim in Pittston. Today, the cemetery continues to serve members of the Jewish faith.
Maxwell Marcus, who assisted Lokuta throughout the tour, said several family members are buried in the West Pittston Jewish Cemetery. In addition, Marcus, who along with Kate Gibbons founded the Exeter Historical Society, is considered to be an expert on the history of Exeter’s Jewish population.
Sheldon Block of Laflin, and owner of Outlet Army and Navy Store in Wilkes Barre, which recently closed after 45 years, said this was the first time that he attended one of Lokuta’s tours. He said he found out about the event through Marcus, his longtime friend.
Sandy Platsky of Wilkes Barre and Barbara Gelb of West Pittston also attended. Platsky said she is always “interested in learning” and that she finds “the local buildings of interest.”
The third, and final stop on the tour was a recently rediscovered Jewish burial spot, located within the grounds of the Pittston Cemetery. Lokuta saidthat “in cleaning the cemetery, they revealed a Jewish burial ground within the cemetery.”
Ron Faraday, who founded the greater Pittston Historical Society in 2000, said that this past September and October 100 volunteers were clearing the underbrush from the cemetery when the burial ground was discovered.
Martha Zavada of Exeter, on one of Lokuta’s tours for the third time, said they are “wonderful, very informative, and teaches so much.” She said people often do not “realize the significance” of the local buildings.
She summed up Lokuta’s annual tours as being a “celebration of religions.”