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Morris Ostroff, caretaker for small S.J. synagogue

Morris Ostroff had been a caretaker since 1985 for Beth Israel, a small synagogue in Rosenhayn, Cumberland County, N.J., that adjoins his former poultry farm.

Morris Ostroff
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Morris Ostroff had been a caretaker since 1985 for Beth Israel, a small synagogue in Rosenhayn, Cumberland County, N.J., that adjoins his former poultry farm.

Mr. Ostroff opened the synagogue - which has no congregation - only for a visiting rabbi and interested worshipers on the Sabbath of Return, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

On Thursday, Mr. Ostroff, 93, died at his home. He had served as caretaker for Beth Israel, more familiarly known as the Garton Road shul, until the day of his death.

"The only reason the place is still standing is that my father desired it and willed it to be so," said his son, Robert.

About once a week, Morris Ostroff would visit it because "it's just a stone's throw away."

In a 2007 Inquirer interview, Mr. Ostroff said that over the years, he had paid for new siding and new windows on the building, which is about the size of a two-car garage.

Since then, his son said, "there was some storm damage. There was foundation work because the building was leaning."

Robert Ostroff recalled that "a bad hailstorm punched holes in the siding, so that had to be replaced."

All the work was paid for by Morris Ostroff, his son said.

On Saturday, Dec. 31, a community candle-lighting religious service is to take place at 6:30 p.m. at Beth Israel.

The December service, which began six years ago, is the only one besides the service on the Sabbath of Return.

Mr. Ostroff has maintained Beth Israel since 1985, because that was the year when the congregation, which worshipped there during the High Holidays, canceled its celebrations because the turnout had become too small.

In the interview, Mr. Ostroff explained why he was the caretaker.

"That's why the Lord sent me here, to take care of that synagogue," he said.

"Who else should take care of it? I'm the only Jew on this road."

Born in Vineland, N.J., Mr. Ostroff graduated from Bridgeton High School in 1941, and served in an infantry division in the battle of Okinawa.

After World War II ended in the Pacific, Mr. Ostroff worked with an engineers battalion to turn Irumagawa Airfield in Japan into Johnson Air Base for American troops.

Among his military decorations was a Distinguished Service Medal.

Before his military service, Mr. Ostroff attended Peirce College in Philadelphia.

In the 1980s, he was a butcher for Goldstein's Meat Market in Rosenhayn.

Michael Bernstein, who had known Mr. Ostroff for 26 years as a fellow member of a congregation in Carmel, said, "He was a mensch, a real mensch. A person of integrity and honor."

The building was like several other small synagogues used by Russian immigrant farmers in the region, Bernstein said. "It was a matter of great pride to maintain it."

Mr. Ostroff was an associate member of the Sons of Jacob Congregation in Vineland, a board member of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth Abraham in Carmel, and a past commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 610 in Vineland.

Besides his son, Mr. Ostroff is survived by his wife of 65 years, Helyn; daughter Shelley Brownstein; three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Services took place on Monday, Dec. 26.

Donations may be sent to Beth Israel, 612 Garton Rd., Bridgeton, N.J. 08302, or to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, Ala, 36104.

Condolences may be offered to the family at

610-313-8134 @WNaedele