By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER – For years, Mindy Hall, outreach director at the Worcester Jewish Community Center, had a file with ideas for a tour of historic Jewish Worcester, but nothing ever came of it.
Earlier this year, Barbara Rossman and Toby Richmond of the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts came to Hall and said they wanted to do just such a historical tour of Jewish Worcester.
“I said, ‘What a great idea!’” exclaimed Hall, who with Richmond and Rossman enlisted Harold Gurwitz, a 95-year-old Worcester native who is an expert on the history of Worcester’s Jewish community, to lead the tour.
On May 17 the Women’s Philanthropy Tour of Historical Jewish Worcester will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Another tour for members of the Jewish Federation’s Young Adult Division (YAD) will take place Sunday, June 7 from 1- 5 p.m.
“There have been a lot of people interested in the tour. Worcester is very rich in history,” said Barbara Rossman, who added that planning interesting programming like this fits in with Women’s Philanthropy’s goal of “rejuvenating” the division.
The May 17 tour is open to members of Women’s Philanthropy first, and then if there are any available seats, other members of the community can participate.
Hall loved the idea of the tour so much, she talked to the members of the Young Adult Division (YAD), which she coordinates, to see if they were interested in doing the tour. And they were.
“There are a lot of newcomers in YAD who don’t know the history of Worcester,” said Hall. “I thought it would be a great way to teach them the local Jewish history. They are, hopefully, the future leaders of the community, so I think it is important for them to know about Worcester’s past.”
Both tours will start out with lunch at Weintraub’s Deli on Water Street.
“Weintraub’s Deli has been around for years and years and years,” Hall said. “It was a real Jewish deli back in the day. So we are going to go there first and Harold is going to give some background. It will be really great for me and for three-quarters of my Young Adult Division people who are not from here to actually learn all of the things that happened here.”
After Weintraub’s, the tour will take them to Worcester’s East Side, the area where the Jewish community originally settled.
“We are going to ride through the streets looking at the old synagogues. Some are still there, but most have gone,” Rossman said. “Harold will give a narrated tour — who lived in that house, what store used to be there, where they went, where they played ball…all that stuff.”
The day will also include a docent-led tour of the home of Stanley Kunitz, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who hailed from Worcester. The day will end with a private tour of the Worcester Historical Society.
Gurwitz’s younger sister, the late Norma Feingold, was editor and research assistant at the Worcester Historical Society Museum, and in 1983 she curated the exhibit, “Water Street: World Within a World,” an exhibition of Jewish life in Worcester from the 1880s through 1945. Today the museum’s Jewish archives include a film presentation of Water Street and many items that have been collected and exhibited over the years.
Born in Worcester, Harold Gurwitz was the son of Sam and Nettie Gurwitz. Sam and his two brothers came to the United States from Russia and opened Gurwitz Brothers Print Shop on Lower Front Street in Worcester. They bought the Mercantile Printers in the early 1920s. Harold began working at Mercantile Printers when he was 17 years old, and worked there until he retired at the age of 82 .
Like his sister, Harold knows just about everything there is to know about the Jewish community in Worcester.
“He is a real storyteller,” Hall said. “And who better to learn the history of Jewish Worcester from than Harold, a 95-year-old man who grew up here and knows everything?” n
This 1912 photo of Arkus Pharmacy can be seen at the Worcester Historical Society
Weintraub’s Deli on Water Street