Miriam S. Agus, 88, aided husband in growth of Beth El for 4 decades

July 18, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Miriam S. Agus, who assisted in the growth and family life of the Beth El Congregation for more than four decades, died of complications from dementia Wednesday at the North Oaks Retirement Community. She was 88 and had lived in Ashburton, Stevenson and Upper Park Heights.

Born Miriam Shore in Boston, she spoke no English when she entered first grade in Boston public schools. She soon learned the language, but retained her knowledge of Yiddish throughout her life.

She went on to earn a degree from Boston Hebrew Teachers College, where she studied Jewish texts, history and culture. She also learned Hebrew and taught in Boston before leading Hebrew schools in Dayton, Ohio, and Chicago.

In 1940 she married Jacob B. Agus, a rabbi who was then in Cambridge, Mass., working on his doctorate at Harvard University. He worked throughout his life to improve understudying between Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups. Rabbi Agus died in 1986.

"She read the philosopher Immanuel Kant, and they were attracted to each other through their intellectual discussions about philosophy," said daughter Deborah Agus of Baltimore. "Throughout her life, she was committed to an interest in learning to understand what God wants us to do in the world."

In 1950, she and her husband moved to Baltimore to Beth El, a newly formed Conservative congregation of 50 families who then worshiped at Hilton and Dorithan roads in Ashburton.

"She was a beautiful woman who was concerned with doing things the right way," said son Robert E. Agus of Chevy Chase. "She showed a great deal of respect to my father, which reflected a traditional view of a great scholar."

"She was very much a part of Beth El," her daughter said. "She saw her role as my father's counterpart in developing the congregation. She was a leader in its artistic, social, educational and cultural areas."

She also helped her husband, the author of nine scholarly books, prepare and edit his manuscripts. A traditional cook, she also entertained noted visitors to their home, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading scholar, and British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, with whom her husband corresponded.

"She was a strong and involved person, active in the Conservative movement as a supporter of my father," her daughter said. "She was so much a part of the congregation that, as a child, I had a full-time baby sitter. My mother was a very busy woman."

Services were held Friday at the Beth El Synagogue.

Survivors, in addition to her son and daughter, include another son, Dr. Zalman S. Agus of Cherry Hill, N.J.; another daughter, Edna Tova Povich, of Washington, D.C.; a brother, Philip Shore of Newton, Mass.; 11 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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