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The strength of our Jewish community is our membership. We are blessed by so many warm and caring individuals and families that make our community a great place to live and work. Our member Q & A section seeks to tap into that community spirit and find the mitzvot motivation of our members.

On March 18, 2020, during the early days of the American coronavirus outbreak, the Federation received this note from Jan Housman. "While I am "shut in" I decided to do this writing assignment.  I have meant to do this many times, but always felt too busy to tackle this.  Today I put my heart and mind into this and this is what I had to say."

Thank you Jan for making the time to tell us about yourself and share some personal thoughts at this difficult time.


Five Questions for a Federation Member Profile
Janet Lurie Housman


My Mother was born in Altoona at Mercy hospital in 1927.  Her mother, Lily Solomon married Roy Schulman who started the Schulman stores.  He also expanded to another store in Tyrone.  They had three children.  My mother, Hilda Schulman was the oldest.  Her younger brother Irving and younger sister Marlene were all born in Altoona.  In 1936, Roy Schulman was killed in a pedestrian car accident.  Lily eventually remarried and moved to Pittsburgh when my mother was 15.  My great grandparents also lived in Altoona.  My mother’s parents were also immigrants from the Ukraine and they too lived in Altoona. They helped their two daughters who were both widows raise their families after their husbands had died.   I remember them as a child.  They are all buried at Agudath Achim Cemetery.  When I am deceased, there will be four generations of my family all buried at our cemetery. 

My Father was born at Mercy hospital in 1923.  His father, Jacob Lurie, arrived at Ellis Island and moved to Altoona to work on the Railroad. My Father’s parents were immigrants from the Ukraine who came to Altoona in the early 1900’s.  Abe Lurie worked on the Railroad as a brakeman.   Jacob was a charter member of the orthodox synagogue in Altoona and his wife Minnie was a member of the sisterhood in its infancy.  Joseph Lurie, my father graduated from Altoona High school in 1941 and went off to Asia to fight in the U.S. army.  Later, his younger brother Melvin was drafted into WWII.  When my father came home from the war in 1945, he married my mother and they settled in Bedford, PA when I was two years old.  We went to Altoona every Sunday for Sunday School and Hebrew School.  It was long before I-99 was built and a long drive, over an hour.  Our Sundays were filled with lunch at my grandparents, bowling and arts and crafts at the Jewish Memorial Center in the afternoon, and lots of visits with countless aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. 

Growing up in Bedford was a wonderful experience.  I was proud of my Jewish heritage and my parents had many wonderful friends.  When I graduated from Penn State University in 1974, I wanted nothing more than to live near my family who were in Bedford and Altoona.  I took a teaching job in the Northern Bedford School District and taught school for 36 years. We raised our two children in Claysburg where we still live.  They had a Bar and Bat Mitzvah and were Confirmed just like I was, and my parents were.  Our daughter was married at our synagogue under the same chuppah that Jack and I were married under.  I have always been very grateful that my great grandparents had the initiative to leave the old world behind and make a new life here in Altoona, PA.


Our congregation has always kept up with an ever changing society.  We have adapted to meet the needs of interfaith families and embrace all people who what to be part of our Jewish community.  It was not always like that, but we have learned from our mistakes and have never been afraid to revise our standards to meet the needs of our ever changing Jewish community.  We are unique because we have the Jewish Memorial Center next to our synagogue.  This institution has provided many activities for the Greater Altoona population over many decades.  It is an asset to the community at large.  Our Jewish community is unique because of the contributions that our members have made to our community.  Our members are distinguished doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, pharmacists, optometrists, artists, engineers and business owners, to name just a few vocations we have greatly contributed to.  We are special because of our commitment to Judaism and our commitment to one another.


When I was nineteen years old, I went to Israel and worked on a Kibbutz in the Negev called Revivim.  It was 1970, just three years after the Six Day War.  The victory was still being celebrated by the young Jewish people I met from all over the world who had come to the aide of the State of Israel.  After that summer, I grasped the importance of having a Jewish State.  As the years unfolded in my life, I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Judith Meisel.  She is a Holocaust survivor who came to Altoona to speak to students in our schools and universities to teach about her experiences when hatred became to norm and ordinary people became bystanders instead of getting involved.  Her message resonated with me and led me to become an active part of Celebrate Diversity.  This program has touched the lives hundreds of middle school students for the past twenty-six years as they gather to learn about hatred and bigotry and bullying.  It is a powerful program and has addend deep significance to my Jewish life.  The message to be kind to others, even when they are different is so important.  I am proud to deliver this message not only to the Celebrate Diversity students, but to my own students over my thirty-six year career, and to all those I meet in my wonderful Jewish life.


There are numerous examples to illustrate how my decision making has guided my Jewish identity.   Let’s take for instance my identity when I became my father’s caretaker in the last few years of his life.  I sought out materials that explained what my role was according to Jewish practice and these traditions guided my decision making continually.  I sought to honor my father by making sure his wishes were fulfilled.  As his health declined, I tried to be comforting, but truthful.  Not an easy combination, but the books I read were helpful every step of the way. After my father died, I relied on our traditions to guide me in all of my decisions concerning his burial and the grieving process.  It is part of my identity to rely on the beliefs and traditions that my people have followed for thousand of years.   


My hopes for the future of our Jewish community are wrapped up in my belief that our community is diminishing in population due to the fact that many of our congregants no longer are alive or have moved away.    We face financial problems and we face security obstacles and we face not having sufficient members to continue into the future.  My hope is that our two Jewish congregations can put aside our differences and come together to be one vibrant Jewish Community for the sake of our future generations.  In the big picture, I believe that our survival as a Jewish Community is far more important than the struggles we have as our numbers continue to shrink in the years to come.  I hope I live to see this happen.  That is my hope for our Jewish community.  If not now, when?


  Past Member Q&A's