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Keeping the faith

March 29, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

It's a solitary faith that Elly Lyon practices at the Loyalton assisted living center

She observes Orthodox Judaism, and as far as she knows, she's alone.

"Hagerstown is not a very hospitable place for someone like me, especially before a holiday," said Lyon, 90.

Usually, she spends the Jewish holiday of Passover with longtime friends in Baltimore.

Passover was Wednesday and Thursday this year. Lyon didn't feel well, and she didn't want her health problems burdening her host, so she stayed home.

But she wasn't alone.

Her close friend Bob Rosen celebrated with her. They had seders, or Passover dinner-table services, together.

It didn't matter that Rosen grew up in a Reform Jewish household.

Orthodox Jews strictly conform to the rites and traditions of Judaism; Reform Jews do not require strict observance of traditional ritual.

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Rosen regularly helps Lyon observe Orthodox tenets as best as she can. Lyon keeps kosher, following a strict Judaic dietary code that prohibits, among other things, mixing meat and dairy products. Separate sets of dishes and silverware must be used.

Living in a small apartment, as Lyon does, there are limitations. Instead of removing all of the leavened food from her home, a pre-Passover custom, Lyon covered them with a cloth.

Lyon calls Rosen, 57, her "lifeline" to the outside world.

He's also her eyes; her own are deteriorating. Several times a week, he reads aloud articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times to her. They just finished Kate Chopin's novel "The Awakening" and they're working on James Joyce's "Ulysses."

Rosen met Lyon about a year and a half ago through Rabbi Janice Garfunkel of Congregation B'Nai Abraham in Hagerstown.

"We hit it off so instantly, (Garfunkel) got up after about 45 minutes and she left," Lyon said. "She realized all was well."

Rosen was a prosecutor with the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C., for 18 years before he walked away from his job.

His feet took him to Venice for a few years, Amsterdam for a few years, the French countryside, Asia - wherever his wanderlust pointed him, he said. He would meet someone who said Nepal was great, so Nepal would be the next stop.

Rosen was abroad for eight years. He didn't have any family to urge him to come home.

Lyon's nearest relative is a nephew in Washington, D.C., although family and friends in the United States and Israel frequently call her.

In 1921, Lyon was 10 years old when she, her mother, her sister and the family's maid left Austria. They spent two weeks on a boat so they could join her father, who was in Pennsylvania.

Some of the family that they left behind were killed in concentration camps.

Rosen returned to the U.S. three years ago and settled in a wood chalet in Smithsburg. Garfunkel introduced him to Lyon, knowing they had life in Europe and a love of classical music in common.

"We've sort of formed a family between us," Lyon said.

Lyon was married for 43 years to Isadore Lyon, a doctor whom everyone knew as Sonny.

Sonny Lyon's long medical career included 13 years as the chief physician at the Western Medical Hospital Center after it opened in Hagerstown in 1957.

Elly Lyon said her husband's ancestors helped start Congregation B'Nai Abraham as an Orthodox synagogue, but it became Reform "through attrition."

In Hagerstown, the couple went to great trouble to stay Orthodox and keep kosher. It was a hassle to have to go to Baltimore for kosher meat, but Sonny Lyon would always say: "Labor of love."

Hagerstown was not an easy place for an Orthodox Jew, but love helped, she said.

"He was here," Lyon said of her husband, "and that was all that mattered."

Now, Lyon and Rosen go to see the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and to hear the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Lyon joked that she would consider marrying Rosen - if only she were 30 years younger.

"Bob is heaven sent," she said. "God brought him and dropped him into my lap."

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