A Taste of the Sites of Jewish Experience Along BostonWalks' The Jewish Friendship
Trail in Brookline
- To understand where and when Jews arrived in Brookline, Massachusetts,
it helps to know a little about the Jewish history of Boston, Massachusetts.
- The Jews of Boston came in two noticeable waves - or should we say
in one rivulet and one river.
- The rivulet started in the 1840s and emanated from Central Europe.
So-called German Jews from places such as Posin included Jewish families
such as the William Filene family, founders of the Filene Department
Stores. These Central European Jews did not arrive in Boston in large numbers
but rather totalled about 3,000 arrivals between the 1840s and 1870s.
Starting out in Boston as Orthodox Jews, during those three decades of
the 1840s to 1870s, many of them turned to Reform Judaism.
Two of the significant synagogues which these Central European Jews
created included Boston's first synagogue, Ohabei Shalom, and Boston's
second synagogue, Temple Israel. By the time Ohabei Shalom moved to Brookline in the 1920s, its
congregation is moderately Reform with some Conservative tendencies.
- Compared with the small rivulet of Central European Jews coming to
Boston, the Eastern European Jews constituted a gushing river!
This river of Eastern European Jews started coming into Boston in
the 1870s. So-called Polish Jews from places such as Lithuania included
a Jewish family surnamed Rabinovitz - later to shorten their name to Rabb
and start the Stop and Shop supermarket chain.
Relatively speaking, the Eastern European Jews came into Boston in
large numbers. Between the 1870s and 1920s, approximately 100,000
Eastern European Jews arrived in Boston.
While, like the Central European Jews initially landing with their
Orthodoxy intact; unlike large numbers of Central European Jews transition to Reform
practices, many of the Eastern European Jews gradually turned to Conservative
Among the early significant synagogues which the Eastern European
Jews created were the North End's Baldwin Place shul (Beth Israel),
the West End's North Russell Street shul (Beit HaMidrash HaGadol), and
Roxbury's Blue Hill Avenue and Crawford Street shuls.
- KI (Kehillath Israel), Brookline's first synagogue, stemmed from this
Eastern European Jewry. Beginning around 1911, Eastern European Jews,
still Orthodox, began moving into Coolidge Corner from Boston's North
Most likely, they had davened (prayed), previously to coming into
Brookline, at the Baldwin Place shul!
By the 1910s, these first Brookline Jews had formed a regular
minyan (prayer group) and high holiday services. Before locating
a building, they would daven regularly in members' apartments and
rented Whitney hall - upstairs in the well-known SS Pierce building -
for the high holidays.
In the mid-teens, they purchased their first building at the corner
of Harvard and Thorndike Streets. Finally, in the early 1920s, they
purchased the site on Harvard Street where KI would be built.
In January, 1925, they opened Congregation Kehillath Israel's main
sanctuary. The first rabbi employed by KI had been the rabbi at the
Crawford Street shul.
Known as an eloquent scholar, he was Rabbi Lewis M. Epstein, whom
KI's auxiliary building, the auditorium, would be named after when it was
built 23 years later!
During that first year, 1925, KI adopted mixed seating and began
evolving from Orthodoxy to Conservative Judaism. As a Conservative
synagogue, with multiple prayer groups from egalitarian to traditional,
KI continues on Harvard Street today.
- A small group from KI, wishing to maintain their Orthodoxy, formed
their own separate minyan (quorum needed for prayer) by 1926 and called
themselves Congregation Sons of Israel. They were the seed for another
Brookline synagogue today known as Young Israel.
Young Israel of Brookline was more formally organized in the 1940s;
and, by the 1950s, YI had its first congregational building on Fuller
By the 1960s, Young Israel had purchased and begun using a building
on Green Street, its present site.
When fire destroyed Young Israel's facilities in the early 1990s,
the shul rebuilt completely, creating Brookline's newest facility for
Jewish worship (1994).
- Breakaway groups forming their own minyans is a tradition in itself
in Boston's Jewish-American history. Another breakaway group which formed a Brookline Jewish synagogue
broke away from Temple Israel, Boston's second synagogue, in the late 1930s.
This breakaway group formed Temple Sinai in 1939; and the Second Unitarian Society Church building at the corner
of Charles Street and Sewall Avenue.
Temple Sinai, a
Reform synagogue, remains at the same location today.
- Ohabei Shalom, Boston's first synagogue, decided to move to Brookline
in the 1920s, after locating in three other previous sites in Boston's
lower and upper South End.
By the time Ohabei Shalom moved to Brookline, its congregation had been
in existence for over seventy-five years! It already was (and is) a successful,
moderate Reform house of worship.
In Brookline, on Beacon Street between Kent and Marshall Streets,
Ohabei Shalom built a magnificent two building complex.
The first building was completed in 1926. It served as the school
and original social hall. The main sanctuary was completed in 1928. Ohabei
Shalom continues as a Reform synagogue at that location today.