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Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-600

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains meeting minutes, financial documents, correspondence, photographs, newsletters, publications, photographs, audiovisual materials, and news clippings collected by the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts that document the Jewish organizations, families, individuals, schools, arts and cultural institutions, and synagogues of Western Massachusetts, including but not limited to the communities of Springfield, Amherst, Holyoke, Northampton, Longmeadow, North Adams, and Greenfield. Also included are administrative records of the Jewish Historical Society of Massachusetts, as well as publications written by, about, and for the region's Jewish community. Of particular interest may be the documents chronicling the histories of the area's synagogues, with much material focusing on Northampton's Congregation B'nai Israel, Springfield's former Beth Israel Synagogue, and Springfield's Temple Beth El, as well as newspapers that serviced the local Jewish community, including the Jewish Weekly News and the Massachusetts Jewish Ledger. Some folders are restricted.

Dates

  • undated, 1902-2018

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Historical Note

The Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts (JHSWM) was founded in South Deerfield, Massachusetts by Kenneth Schoen and Jane Trigière in 2007 with the mission to document the local Jewish community's history through the creation of exhibits and cultural events and the collection of archives and oral histories. Since its beginnings, the JHSWM has collected papers, audiovisual materials, ephemera, and other documents chronicling the Jewish organizations, schools, synagogues, arts and cultural institutions, families, and individuals of Western Massachusetts.

Jews began settling in Western Massachusetts—which includes the cities and towns of Springfield, Amherst, Holyoke, Longmeadow, Northampton, Greenfield, Pittsfield, North Adams, Westfield, Athol, Great Barrington, and Florence, among others—after the Civil War and made livings as shopkeepers, tailors, watchmakers, shoemakers, leather goods dealers, and various other trades. In Springfield, by 1905 the Jewish population grew to over 400 families made up of 2,500 individuals, making up three percent of the city’s total population.

As the Jewish population in Western Massachusetts grew, Jewish residents began establishing congregations to cater to the community’s religious needs. Early Jewish resident in Springfield formed the Agudass Achem Society circa 1886-1887. Meeting first in rented rooms in Springfield’s North End, the group officially incorporated as Congregation Beth Israel in 1892 and built the city’s first synagogue on Gray’s Avenue. The congregation later moved and built new synagogues on Chestnut Street in the North End in 1923, and in the early 1970s, to Williams Street in the Forest Park neighborhood.

In 1891, a group from Beth Israel left to form Congregation B’nai Jacob. In 1921 the congregation built a synagogue on Congress Street in the North End, and later another building on Eunice Street in Longmeadow. In 1902, a different group from Congregation Beth Israel left to form Congregation Sons of Israel, and in 1924 built a synagogue on Dwight Street in the North End. This congregation closed in 1979.

In other communities of Western Massachusetts, synagogues were also established, including Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield in 1869, Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams in 1893, Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield in 1893, Congregation Rodphey Sholom in Holyoke in 1900, and Congregation Sons of Zion in Holyoke in 1904. Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton was founded in 1905, with its first synagogue building on Bridge Street in the old St. John’s Episcopal Church building, and then, in 1963, in a new building on Prospect Street.

In Springfield, more congregation emerged. In 1900, Congregation Kesser Israel was established and in 1909 moved into the Jobson Mansion on Chestnut Street in the North End. Later, due to urban renewal efforts in the North End, the congregation moved to the Forest Park area, taking over the old Congregation Kodimoh synagogue. In 1913, Temple Beth El was established, with its first building on Fort Pleasant Street near Forest Park, and then a new building on Dickinson Street. In 1965, the building burned down and was rebuilt and reopened in 1968. Congregation Kodimoh was founded in 1916, with its first synagogue located on Oakland Street, later moving into a new building on Sumner Avenue. Sinai Temple was founded in 1931; the congregation purchased a mansion on Sumner Avenue, and later built a synagogue on Dickinson Street.

Other congregations established in the early 20th century include Congregation Ahavas Achim in Westfield in 1911, Temple Israel Athol in Athol in 1911, Temple Israel (formerly called the Greenfield Hebrew Congregation) in Greenfield in 1918, and Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Great Barrington in 1923.

Later on in the century, even more congregations were founded while others merged. The Jewish Community of Amherst was founded in 1969, the Hevrah of South Berkshire in Great Barrington in 1974, Beis Medrash in Longmeadow in 1974, and Beit Ahavah in Florence in 1998. In 2008, Congregation B’nai Jacob and Temple Beth El merged, staying in the Temple Beth El building. In 2009, Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Kodimoh, and Congregation Kesser Israel also merged, forming a new congregation, Congregation B’nai Torah, and moving into the old B’nai Jacob building.

Schools, too, were established as the Jewish population grew in Western Massachusetts. Day schools such as the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy and Springfield Hebrew Day School (later renamed Heritage Academy) were organized in 1946 and 1951, respectively. First known as the Solomon Schechter Day School of the Pioneer Valley, the Lander-Grinspoon Academy was established in 1996 in Northampton, and the Sinai Academy in Pittsfield was established in 1974 but closed its doors in 2012.

Early on, Western Massachusetts’ Jewish community also formed numerous clubs and organizations. The Springfield Jewish Community Center (JCC) was initially organized by Henry Lasker as a local chapter of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) in 1895 for the purpose of “elevating its members and the community by adapting the to the customs and institutions of the American people.” Renting club rooms in a variety of locations around Springfield for its first years of existence, in 1921, a new building was erected on Sargent Street, and then a new location on Maple Street in 1936. The Springfield JCC was eventually organized, with the YMHA becoming one of its agencies. In the early 1950s, a fundraising campaign raised enough money to purchase land and erect a new building on Dickinson Street. Throughout its history in Springfield, the JCC provides services such as early childhood education, adult education courses, fitness activities and classes, and summer camps, among others.

The Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts was established in 1925 (formerly the Jewish Federation of Greater Springfield), focusing on helping new Jewish immigrants to Springfield, and later, impoverished Jews around the world. The Daughters of Zion Home for the Aged was established in 1912 in Springfield, offering resident care for twelve Jewish seniors. Later known as the Springfield Jewish Home for the Aged and then the Jewish Nursing Home of Western Massachusetts, the institution expanded and moved to Longmeadow in 1972, and in 1992 became officially known as Jewish Geriatric Services. It provides residential care as well several other services and programs.

In 1991, developer Harold Grinspoon founded the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds day schools, educational programs, film festivals, and a number of other programs throughout and beyond Western Massachusetts, including PJ Library, JCamp 180, and Life & Legacy.

Many other communal organizations and clubs established local chapters throughout Western Massachusetts, including Springfield and Northampton-Amherst chapters of Hadassah, the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts (formerly Jewish Family Service of Greater Springfield), Jewish War Veterans of the United States Freedman Post 26, and Springfield AMIT Women (formerly Springfield Mizrachi Women’s Organization).

In addition to communal organizations and clubs, the Jewish community of Western Massachusetts also created a variety of arts and cultural events and institutions. Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center opened in 1997 in Springfield as an organization devoted to educating the public about the Holocaust and genocide through serving as a repository for materials on these subjects, as well as through lectures and exhibits. Located on the campus of the JCC, the institution ceased operations in 2011. The Jewish Film and Special Event Series at the Northampton Film Festival was established as part of the general Northampton Film Festival in 1998 by festival founders Howard Polonsky and Dee Degeiso. In 2004, the series became its own independent film festival, the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, which showcases Jewish-related films in the Western Massachusetts region. Other arts and cultural institutions in Western Massachusetts include Schoen Books, a bookseller founded by JHSWM founders Schoen and Trigière that specializes in books on Judaica (particularly German Judaica), the Holocaust, exile and refugee writers, Israel, and psychoanalysis; the Yiddish Book Center; and Mak’hela, the Jewish Chorus of Western Massachusetts.

Publications were also created and distributed to serve the region’s Jewish community, including Jewish Weekly News and the Massachusetts Jewish Ledger (formerly Western Massachusetts Jewish Ledger).

References

  1. Material from the collection.
  2. Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts. “Springfield.” Accessed April 27, 2018. http://jhswm.org/communities/springfield/.
  3. The Republican. Our stories: the Jews of Western Massachusetts, Edited by Jane Kaufman. Battle Ground, WA: Pediment Publishing, 2013.

Chronology

circa 1860s
Jews begin settling in Western Massachusetts.
1866
Agudass Achem Society is formed.
1869
Temple Anshe Amunim is established.
1891
Congregation B'nai Jacob is established.
1892
Congregation Beth Israel is established.
1893
Congregation Beth Israel (North Adams) is established.
1893
Congregation Knesset Israel is established.
1895
Springfield Jewish Community Center is organized (originally as the Young Men's Hebrew Association).
1900
Congregation Rodphey Sholom is established.
1900
Congregation Kesser Israel is established.
1902
Congregation Sons of Israel is established.
1904
Congregation Sons of Zion is established.
1905
Congregation B'nai Israel is established.
1911
Congregation Ahavas Achim is established.
1911
Temple Israel Athol is established.
1912
The Daughters of Zion Home for the Aged (later Jewish Geriatric Services) is established.
1913
Congregation Beth El is established.
1916
Congregation Kodimoh is established.
1918
Greenfield Hebrew Congregation (later Temple Israel) is established.
1923
Congregation Ahavath Sholom is established.
1925
Jewish Federation of Greater Springfield (later Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts) is established.
1931
Sinai Temple is established.
1946
Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy is established.
1951
Springfield Hebrew Day School (later Heritage Academy) is established.
1969
Jewish Community of Amherst is established.
1974
Hevrah of South Berkshire is established.
1974
Beis Medrash is established.
1991
Harold Grinspoon Foundation is established.
1996
Lander-Grinspoon Academy is established.
1997
Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center is opened.
1998
Beit Ahavah is established.
2004
Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival is established.
2007
The Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts is established..
2008
Congregation B'nai Jacob and Temple Beth El merge.
2009
Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Kodimoh, and Congregation Kesser Israel merge into Congregation B'nai Torah.

Extent

16.4 linear feet (13 document boxes, 2 OS boxes)

Abstract

The Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts Records contain materials collected by the society that document the Jewish community of Western Massachusetts. Included are materials on Jewish organizations, families, individuals, schools, arts and cultural institutions, and synagogues; publications written about or by the Jewish community; and information on the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts itself.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Kenneth Schoen in June 2016; additional materials donated in February 2018.

Processing Information

Processed by Lindsay Murphy, 2018
Title
Guide to the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts Records, I-600
Author
Processed by Lindsay Murphy
Date
2018

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245