Massachusetts

YMHA Hecht House
YMHA Hecht House

Exterior of Hecht House on American Legion Highway in Dorchester, MA., circa 1940s.

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Stop & Shop, 1940s
Stop & Shop, 1940s

Early Stop & Shop store in the former Elks Building, Cambridge, MA. Circa 1940s.

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Morris Winer Butter and Dairy Store, 1894
Morris Winer Butter and Dairy Store, 1894

Morris Winer Butter and Dairy Store, Salem Street, North End, Boston, 1894. Precursor to Elm Farm Supermarkets.

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YMHA Hecht House
YMHA Hecht House

Exterior of Hecht House on American Legion Highway in Dorchester, MA., circa 1940s.

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Early Days

Earliest Settlers and Communities

First recorded Jewish resident: Judah Monis (1683-1764) was a scholar and Hebraicist; he converted to Christianity before joining Harvard College. Moses Michael Hays (1739-1805) was a merchant and one of founders of Massachusetts Bank; he is related to the Touros of Rhode Island.

Major Immigrant-era Settlements: Earliest Known Settlement Dates

Boston was the last major Atlantic port to have a significant Jewish population; prior to the 1850s, most Jewish immigrants in the city did not stay very long as the city was inhospitable to newcomers and did not have as many opportunities as New York. By 1899, the Jewish population of Boston was 20,000.

1840-60: German immigration period; Boston—Beth Israel (1849), Temple Israel (1854), Mishkan Israel (1858).  

1880-1920: Eastern Europeans arrived in large numbers

  • Boston: South End (1842); West End (1888); North End (1875); Dorchester (1895); Mattapan (1921); Roxbury (1878); East Boston (1891)

  • Nearby communities around Boston: Chelsea (1887); Everett (1896); Revere (1890); Lynn (1889); Winthrop (1912); Malden (1901); Medford (1917); Newton (1895); Cambridge (1903); Somerville (1898); Waltham (1914); Watertown (1918)

  • North of Boston: Holyoke (1893); North Shore: Beverly (1897); Salem (1894); Newburyport (1895); Peabody (1909); Lowell (1888); Lawrence (1889); Medway (1898); Wakefield (1915); Woburn (1906); Gloucester (1904)

  • South of Boston: New Bedford (1892); Norwood (1907); Fall River (1885); Brockton (1899); Taunton (1910); Maynard (1909); Milford (1903)

  • Western Massachusetts: North Adams (1893); Northampton (1893); Pittsfield (1869—oldest congregation between Boston and Albany); Worcester (1877); Springfield (1886); Webster (1910); Wilmington (1917); Westfield (1911); Worcester (1877)

1910-1940:  Jewish community moves from downtown Boston to Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, and other nearby communities.

Post-War: Jews move from Boston neighborhoods to suburbs (Brookline, Newton, Swampscott, Marblehead, Framingham, Quincy and others).

1990s on: Further movement to outer suburbs off Route 495 (Sudbury, Wayland, Southborough.)

Major immigrant-era industries

  • Peddling followed by main street retail stores (general, grocery, clothing, pharmacy, etc) and then department stores

  • Cigar-making

  • Farming

  • Crafts (cobbler, tailor, furrier, watchmaker, optician, bricklayer)

Current Information

Major Current Jewish Population Centers

The current Jewish population of Massachusetts is roughly 293,080 (2019).

Greater Boston (includes Boston, immediate suburbs within areas below) 

MetroWest (Brookline, Newton, Wellesley, Needham, Natick, Framingham, Sudbury, Wayland, Weston 

Worcester 

Western Massachusetts: Springfield/Longmeadow, Pittsfield 

North (Lynn, Marblehead, Swampscott, Beverly, Newburyport, Peabody, Salem, Gloucester, Lexington, Burlington) 

South (Milton, Quincy, Canton, Sharon, Hingham, Plymouth, Cape Cod) 

Merrimack Valley (Andover, Lawrence, Lowell, Haverhill) 

 

Principal Statewide Jewish Organizations

Combined Jewish Philanthropies  

Federations: 

Berkshires

Western Massachusetts

Central Massachusetts

Merrimack Valley

Cape Cod

Greater New Bedford

Principal Regional Jewish Organizations

Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts

Synagogue Council of Massachusetts

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston

Cultural Centers

Vilna Shul, Boston. Currently a cultural and historic site, this is the oldest remaining immigrant-era synagogue in Boston and hosts a wide variety of programs, tours and services. 

Schools and Universities

Massachusetts has a variety of Jewish studies degree programs and schools. This list is not exhaustive. 

Historical Resources

Local Jewish Historical Societies and Resource Centers

Wyner Jewish Family Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society 

Incorporating the New England Archives of the American Jewish Historical Society, the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center has more than 2 million records in its archives and more than 600,000 searchable documents in its growing digital collections.  It is a destination for exploring and preserving the history of Jewish families and institutions in New England and beyond. Through its extensive archival collections, scholarship, educational programs, exhibits and public events, the JHC engages scholars and the general public in the study of Jewish history and culture. 

Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts 

This organization collects documents, stories, and photos in the region for its archives and oral histories. 

Jewish Women’s Archive    

A national organization that documents Jewish women’s stories, elevates their voices, and inspires them to be agents of change through a robust online collection and educational programs. World’s largest collection of online information about Jewish women and their history. Boston-based material on Soviet Jewry movement.

 

Yiddish Book Center  

An international organization working to recover, celebrate, and regenerate Yiddish and modern Jewish literature and culture through collection, study, and scholarship 

 

Statewide Repositories

Worcester Historical Museum 

Significant Jewish archive containing local family and organizational papers and the photo collection of Sidney Plotkin. 

City of Boston Archives 

Massachusetts Historical Society 

Massachusetts Archives 

Facing History and Ourselves 

 

 

Local Jewish Genealogical Societies

Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston; website includes many valuable resources including a historical list of synagoguescemeteries, and newspapers on microfilm

Publications 

Jewish Cemeteries and Burial Information

See Historical Cemeteries

 

Publications

Jewish Advocate (1909-2020)—available on microfilm at Hebrew College, Boston Public Library, and the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (also as a ProQuest database.) 

North Shore Journal   

Antin, Mary. The Promised Land.  Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912 

Ehrenfried, Albert. Chronicle of Boston Jewry. Boston:  privately published in limited edition,  1963 

Siegel, Richard, Michael Strassfeld and Sharon Strassfeld, eds. The First Jewish Catalog A Do-It-Yourself Kit. Somerville: Havurat Shalom, 1973 

Sarna, Jonathan D Sarna and Ellen Smith, eds.  The Jews of Boston.  Boston, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Yale University Press, 1995

Famous Jewish people from Massachusetts 

Public affairs/politics 

  • Louis D. Brandeis—first Jewish Justice, US Supreme Court 

  • Michael Bloomberg—mayor, New York City 

  • Felix Frankfurter—third Jewish Justice, US Supreme Court 

  • Richard Goodwin—speechwriter for JFK 

Entertainment 

  • Leonard Bernstein, composer and conductor 

  • Arlene Francis, TV personality 

  • Ruth Gordon, Broadway actress 

  • Nat Hentoff, columnist, Village Voice 

  • Leonard Nimoy, actor 

  • Barbara Walters, TV host/interviewer 

  • Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes correspondent 

  • B.J. Novak, actor 

Sports 

  • Robert Kraft, owner of New England Patriots and New England Revolution 

  • Julian Edelman, New England Patriots 

  • Theo Epstein, manager of Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs  

  • Aly Raisman, top Olympic gymnast 

  • Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox 

Arts 

  • Jonathan Kozol, author 

  • Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe columnist; founder of Conversation Project 

Business 

  • Leopold Morse, merchant and philanthropist 

  • Edward and Abraham Filene, founders of Filene’s department store 

Academics/Medicine 

  • Noam Chomsky, linguist 

  • Sidney Farber, founder of Dana Farber and Jimmy Fund 

  • Jonas Salk, inventor of polio vaccine 

Religious Leadership 

  • Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, renowned Orthodox leader, founder of Maimonides School