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Former Jewish congregation distributes assets

October 02, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Disc golf baskets, a new scoreboard and development of a skate park are among the public recreation projects in the Martinsburg area being funded with a $134,751 donation from the now-defunct Beth Jacob Congregation, the community's once-prominent Jewish organization.

Organized in 1912, Beth Jacob's last few remaining members filed a petition in Berkeley County Circuit Court to dissolve the organization in December 2008 and distribute remaining assets, including about $290,000 in cash and other items once used for religious purposes to various individuals and organizations.

"It's just a wonderful thing," said R. Stephen Catlett, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board.

"We have so many needs in our park system, we're not going to sit on (the donation), we're going to spend it," Catlett said.

Most of Beth Jacob's donation to the recreation board will be put toward the opening of a skate park, which Catlett said is set to happen next month.

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The baskets, which function as "holes" for disc golf will be installed at Poor House Farm Park west of Martinsburg, where a course for the game could be completed this fall or next spring, Catlett said.

The scoreboard will support indoor soccer and volleyball matches in the Marshall Mason multipurpose wing of the Berkeley 2000 Recreation Center, Catlett said.

The gift will be memorialized in signage and plaques for each of the projects, Catlett said.

Other projects to benefit from the Beth Jacob gift haven't been identified, but Catlett said the board will try to spread money around to as many needs as possible.

Beth Jacob's gift of nearly $80,000 to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library system's four libraries will benefit each location's collection, facilities, services and maybe some programs, according to director Pamela Coyle.

"We're really pleased that they gave it to the local community," Coyle said. "This is just a huge help for us."

In recognition of the gift, Beth Jacob Congregation will be etched into marble at the Martinsburg library and plaques will be mounted at the three branch locations, Coyle said. Each library received $19,751, Coyle said.

One project being eyed with the money will improve the children's area at Musselman-South Berkeley Community Library, Coyle said.

Other area beneficiaries named a final report filed in circuit court this week are B-Nai Abraham Hagerstown Synagogue and Beth El Synagogue in Winchester, Va., which each are to receive $29,751 and Don Wood of the Berkeley County Historical Society ($4,751).

The Historical Society also was given a number of other items, including a menorah, a silver wine cup, a candy dish, a cornerstone, a deed and a sales contract.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Hebrew Union College also were named as beneficiaries, with each receiving $4,751. The asset distribution comes little more than two years after the Beth Jacob sold its synagogue at 126 W. Martin St. in Martinsburg.

Jews first settled in Martinsburg sometime before 1870 and opened a synagogue at the former United Brethren Church building along Pennsylvania Avenue in Martinsburg in 1913, according to a history prepared in commemoration of the synagogue's 50th anniversary. In 1952, the organization moved to the West Martin Street property, which was sold to Blue Ridge Investments LLC in March 2007 for $276,000, according to a deed recorded in Berkeley County Clerk John W. Small Jr.'s office.

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