By Abigail Adams
SPRINGFIELD – “One of my professors in college made a really interesting statement,” Guy McLain, director of the Lyman and Marie Woods Museum of Springfield History, told the Jewish Ledger during a tour of the space that will house the special exhibit, “100 Years of Jewish Life in Springfield: From Shtetl to Suburb” in September. “He said, ‘all history is local history’. At the time I didn’t really register it, but I realized that many times by telling the story of one community, you can give a much better sense of a much broader story.”
On Sept. 17, the Woods Museum will devote its special exhibit room to the story of the Jewish community’s 100+ years in Springfield – a story that mirrors the experience of late 19th and early 20th century Jewish immigrants in cities across the United States. Through a 12-panel installation, and cases of artifacts collected from 15 Jewish organizations in Springfield, the Jewish community will be traced from its origin in the densely packed neighborhoods of the North End in the late 1800s to the suburban neighborhoods along the Forest Park/Longmeadow border that is the center of much of Springfield’s current Jewish activity.
“It isn’t just a Jewish story,” Stuart Anfang, a major force behind the creation of the special exhibit, explained to the Jewish Ledger. “It’s a story of an immigrant community and how we made good.”
The 12 panels featured in the exhibit will narrate the chronology of the Jewish community – from its origins in the urban center of the North End at the heart of Springfield’s industrial revolution to its expansion and relocation to suburban areas. They will also provide the personal history of the Springfield area’s Orthodox, Reformed and Conservative Synagogues. In addition, a panel will be devoted to the area’s Judaic education schools and programs and the area’s Jewish community and social organizations. Among the dozens of artifacts that will be on display will be the shovel from Beth El’s groundbreaking ceremony in 1918, a Torah rescued from the Holocaust, and a tablecloth embroidered and used by early members of Haddassah’s Springfield chapter. “The nice thing about this project,” Stuart told the Ledger, “is that it’s a collaboration. Not just between Beth El and the Springfield Museum. It’s a collaboration throughout Springfield’s Jewish community. People are very proud and excited to tell our story.”
Stuart and Michelle Anfang have been active members of Springfield’s Jewish community since moving to the area in 1996 – a move that was made, in part, due to Congregation B’nai Jacob. Michelle laughed when she recollected one of the couples’ earliest drives through what would become their new neighborhood. Exploring the area, the Anfangs followed a pathway of mezuzahs visible on Longmeadow homes – it led them to the doorstep of B’nai Jacob, which was having a rummage sale. The connection to Western Mass was made and the Anfangs relocated to Longmeadow soon after.
Originally members of B’nai Jacob, the Anfangs switched to Beth El in 2004, so their children could attend Hebrew school. Stuart quickly became a part of the Temple’s leadership. In 2007, he co-chaired the Rabbi Search Committee that formed to find a new spiritual leader after Rabbi Schwartz’s retirement. They found Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz, the first woman in the area’s history to hold the position of Rabbi at a Springfield Synagogue. Due to his connections to B’nai Jacob, Stuart was, also, active in discussions about the merger between the two institutions, which was completed in 2008. He has been a member of the Board of Directors for a majority of his nine years at Temple Beth El and recently served as President.
Stuart noted that their involvement has coincided with enormous changes at Beth El and in the area’s Jewish community. While the couple has been active in initiatives that have prepared the Temple for the future, their work has also helped to immortalize the history of Springfield’s Jewish Synagogues, organizations and institutions, and the immigrants that built them.
“100 Years of Jewish Life in Springfield: From Shtetl to Suburb” is the outgrowth of preparation and planning for Beth El’s centennial celebrations. To prepare for the anniversary, Anfang and a group from Beth El visited the Woods Museum on June 1, 2011 to look over the Beth El archives that had been deposited there after the Temple’s 75th anniversary. The same day deadly tornados ripped through Springfield, the idea for the special exhibit was sparked.
“I thought how nice it would be if we could do something with the museum in honor of our centennial, but I thought to do it just about Beth El would be kind of limited,” Stuart said, recognizing that Jewish Geriatric Services had just finished celebrating their centennial. “We wanted to do something about the whole Jewish community…so we started organizing this massive thing for all of the institutions in the community over the past 100 years.”
Guy McLain and the Woods Museum enthusiastically embraced the project, and the call out to the Jewish organizations and institutions of Springfield for stories, artifacts and funding was made.
On September 17, many of those artifacts, woven into a narrative that chronicles the establishment and evolution of the Jewish community, will debut at the Lyman and Marie Woods Museum of Springfield History. For six months, the story of the Jewish community will become a part of the collections at the Woods Museum, which include the largest collection of Smith & Wesson artifacts and Indian Motorcycles in the world. “It’s a fascinating story,” museum director Guy McClain told the Ledger while pouring over a 1920 atlas that shows the names of the Jewish property owners along Congress, Sharon, Ferry and Franklin Streets in the North End. “The way this community came in, established themselves, grew prospered and changed location – we felt this was fascinating. They kind of moved into the suburbs. That’s really the American story in a way.”
Timeline of Springfield’s
Mid-1800s – Jewish immigrants arrive in Springfield, Massachusetts
1887 – The Agudass Achem Society is founded in Springfield’s North End
1898 – Jewish Family Services is established to offer relief services to Springfield’s Jewish community
1890s – Jewish immigrants in Springfield tops 1,000
1891 – B’nai Jacob, the Sons of Jacob Association, is established
1892 – The Agudass Achem Society incorporates as Beth Israel and builds the area’s first Synagogue, the Gray’s Avenue Schul
1895 – The Young Men’s Hebrew Association is formed and meets in rented locations on Worthington Street
1900 – Congregation Kesser Israel is formed and meets in rented space in Springfield’s North End
1902 – A splinter group from Beth Israel forms B’nai Israel, the Congregation Sons of Israel
1909 – Congregation Kesser Israel purchases the Jobson Mansion at 329 Chestnut Street
1912 – The Daughter’s of Zion Home for the Aged is established
1913 – The first Conservative Jewish congregation, Beth El, is established
1916 – The Orthodox congregation that is later named Kodimoh begins to meet in Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood
1918 – Beth El purchases 150 Fort Pleasant Avenue in Forest Park
1921 – B’nai Jacob builds a Synagogue on Congress Street & Kodimoh lays the cornerstone for their first Synagogue at 19 Oakland Street
1923 – Beth Israel builds the Big Schul at 565 Chestnut Street & Kodimoh dedicates their Oakland Street Synagogue
1924 – B’nai Israel builds the Rissische Schul at 1321 Dwight Street
1925 – The Jewish Federation of Western Mass is established
1932 – The Reform Sinai Temple is established, meeting in a converted mansion at 188 Sumner Ave.
1936 – The Young Men’s Hebrew Association moves to the Holbrook mansion on Maple Street
1938 – The Springfield Jewish Home for the Aged moves to 44 Copley Terrace
1948 – Sinai Temple moves to 1100 Dickinson Street in Springfield near the Longmeadow border
1949 – The Young Men’s Hebrew Association is renamed the Jewish Community Center
1950 – The Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy moves to the 188 Sumner Ave. mansion bought by Rabbi David Edelman
1951 – The charter for the Springfield Hebrew Day school is signed. Classes held in the Kodimoh Synagogue.
1953 – Beth El builds and dedicates their new synagogue at 979 Dickinson Street
1954 – The Jewish Community Center moves to its current location on Dickinson Street
1963 – Kodimoh builds a new Synagogue at 124 Sumner Ave. & B’nai Jacob builds a Synagogue on Eunice Drive in Longmeadow
1964 – The Springfield Hebrew Day School is renamed Heritage Academy
1965 – Temple Beth El’s building burns down
1965 – The Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy moves to 17 Oakland St.
1966 – Congregation Kesser Israel moves into the Oakland Street Synagogue vacated by Kodimoh & Heritage Academy moves to the Wesson Mansion on Maple Street
1968 – Congregation Beth El’s Synagogue is rebuilt at 979 Dickinson Street & Congregation Beth Israel builds a new Synagogue at 1280 Williams Street in Longmeadow
1960s-1970s – Many of the Jewish Synagogues in Springfield’s North End are torn down or converted due to urban renewal projects and demographic changes
1972 – The Springfield Home for the Aged relocates to 770 Converse St. in Longmeadow
1982 – The Heritage Academy builds its first official school building on the Jewish Community Center’s Longmeadow campus
1992 – Springfield Home for the Aged becomes Jewish Geriatric Services and its subsidiary the Jewish Nursing Home of Western MA
1993 – The Harold Grinspoon Foundation established
2008 – Congregation B’nai Jacob merges with Beth El and moves its congregation to 979 Dickinson Street
2009 – Congregation Kodimoh, Kesser Israel and Beth Israel merge together under the Alliance of Orthodox Congregations. The newly merged congregations take on the name Congregation B’nai Torah and move to B’nai Jacob’s old address on Eunice Drive in Longmeadow
2011 – Jewish Family Services of Western Mass opens its second location in Springfield at 1160 Dickinson Street