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6 Self-Guided Walking/Bicycling Jewish Boston History Tours

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Boston Walks presents



"The Jewish Friendship Trail"


A Walking Tour Trail to Sites of


Jewish Experience


In Boston's


South End


Circa 1850s to 1920s



Copyright Michael Alan Ross, 1997-2015.
All rights reserved.
Email: Boston Walks The Jewish Friendship Trail





The Jews' arrival in mid-nineteenth century Boston was announced in the early 1850s when a minyan (prayer-group) constructed Temple Ohabei Shalom on Warren (now Warrenton) Street. For the next seventy-five years, the Jews would maintain a presence in first the lower and then the upper South End. During the first fifty of those seventy-five years, the South End's small Jewish community, principally, consisted of approximately 3,000 Central European "Reform" Jewish-Americans, many of whom had early financial success in commerce. By the 1900s, that small group was joined in the South End by larger numbers of Eastern European "Traditional" Jewish-Americans, many of whom had yet to climb the ladder of financial success. While most of the extant Jewish sites in the South End reflect upon that earlier group's passage, several of the later group's members have left memoirs about their lives in the South End. This BostonWalks' "The Jewish Friendship Trail" in Boston's South End is designed as a 2 hour walking tour. Purchase our guidebook, BostonWalks The Jewish Friendship Trail Guidebook, and you'll be able to discover some of these sites on your own!

For now, let's vicariously walk, then, to these sites of Jewish Experience in Boston's South End circa 1850s to 1920s:



  • (1) Our first site is at one corner of the Boston Common, where a small monument honors E.A. Filene. E.A. Filene is both a symbol of the early Boston entrepreneurial Jewish-Americans of the second half of the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth century and of that same group's devotion to charitable works. Beside Filene, some of the members of this group include Leopold Morse and Jacob and Lina Hecht.



  • (2) Our second site is located across from and includes the Charles Playhouse. Across the street from the once majestic playhouse building once stood Boston's very first synagogue building. It consisted of a thirty by forty-six feet structure which could seat about one hundred, twenty-five families. Since, at its inception, the congregation followed traditional worship patterns, the small facility had separate seating for men and women, had a mikvah (bathhouse), and a Hebrew school. When the congregation outgrew that small building, Ohabei Shalom purchased the building which today houses the Charles Street Playhouse.



This Charles Playhouse building, originally built in 1839 as a Universalist Church, then served Ohabei Shalom from 1863 to 1886. During these years, Ohabei Shalom began the transition from its orthodoxy to reform Judaism. Also, in this building, Boston's Young Mens' Hebrew Association (YMHA) was founded. After 1886, Ohabei Shalom moved to another South End facility which we'll soon visit.



  • (3) We'll now walk down Melrose Street from the corner of Broadway where once stood Boston's second synagogue building, Adath Israel, formed as a breakaway congregation from Ohabei Shalom within a short period of time. For thirty years, Adath Israel congregated here. Its well known reform leader, Rabbi Solomon Schindler, was hired here in 1874. Wandering down Melrose Street to Church Street, one almost steps back in time among the many buildings dating back a century or more. There once was at least one other synagogue here on Church Street (at the corner of Winchester Street): Zions Holy Prophets of Israel Memorial Synagogue (1878-1895). Other nearby shuls (houses of worship) included Beth Eil and Anshe Poland.



  • (4) Just a few blocks further Westward, near the corner of Berkeley and Appleton Streets, we can glimpse a vivid reason why Jews felt comfortable occupying several communal buildings at this intersection. Here, in the first floor of the Theodore Parker meeting house, Adath Israel ran its Sunday school beginning in 1875. Nearby, Congregation Shaaray Tefilla occupied Paine Hall off and on during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Shaaray Tefilla later joined with Boston's third synagogue Mishkan Israel which had been founded in 1858 to form Mishkan Tefilla.



  • (5) Proceeding up East Berkeley Street (formerly known as Dover Street), we'll meander until we discover a street sign which reads "Emerald Court." From the 1880s to the 19teens, the largest traditional (Orthodox) shul in the South End was commonly known as the Emerald Street Synagogue.



  • (6) Turning Southwesr onto Washington Street, we'll go to Union park Street. Here stands another majestic building which once served as a synagogue: this one was the third location for Ohabei Shalom. Originally the Unitarian Church of well-known Bostonian, Edward Everett Hale; Ohabei Shalom occupied this building from 1887 until the mid-1920s. Today, it is a Greek Orthodox Church.



  • (7)Along this previous walking stretch, we might discuss Harrison Avenue. This street was compared to Arlington Street in Chelsea by Mary Antin when she wrote about her growing up in this neighborhood in the first decade of the twentieth century. Filled with Jewish grocers, butchers, bakers, tailors and so on; it, like Arlington Street, was filled with vibrant, very small commerce.



  • (8) Heading North, we'll cross Shawmut Avenue, on which, almost a mile further West, the newly merged Mishkan Tefila, congregated in a former church from 1897 to 1907.



  • (9) Our next site gives us a good sense of the housing stock which the Jews of the late nineteenth century occupied as they continued their economic climb into the upper South End. We're walking up West Canton Street now. By the 1870s, quite a few Jewish families owned and occupied homes here. We'll stop particularly at one house which was home to Rabbi Raphael Lasker. Rabbi Lasker served as Temple Ohabei Shalom's rabbi from 1876 to 1895. As Ohabei Shalom transitioned from it's second location (now the Charles Playhouse) to its third location on Union Park Street, Rabbi Lasker was a voice of Jewish moderation, maintaining a balance for his synagogue's practices midway between traditionalism and Reform.



  • (10) We're heading toward the most magnificent synagogue ediface on this walking tour: Temple Israel (aka Adath Israel).


  • The congregation's former building at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Northampton Street has been the African Methodist-Episcopal Zion Church for much longer than it was a synagogue but its facade reminds us well of its original design (by Louis Weissbein), construction, and use. At its dedication ceremony in 1884, Rabbi Lasker of Ohabei Shalom and Rev. Edward Everett Hale and well as Temple Israel's own Rabbi Schindler gave presentations. While the building only served Temple Israel for just over two decades until 1906, its preservation is a wonder to behold.



  • (11) Members from Temple Ohabei Shalom also formed one of Boston's most successful social/business clubs, the Elysium Club. While the Club's building no longer stands on its site on Huntington Avenue, it was designed by the same architect who designed the synagogue we just visited and possibly emulated the grandeur of that building. For quite a few years, the leadership of both Temple Israel and the Elysium Club was under the strong guidance of Jacob Hecht.



  • (12) Our final site, appropriately, then, on the way back to the starting point of this walking tour of Boston's South End is one of the homes of one of Boston's most prominent Jewish couples in the five decades between 1870 and 1920. While the site is technically in the Back Bay, Jacob and Lina Hecht's involvement in Boston Jewry transcended and crossed the boundaries among the North, West and South Ends as well as between the Central and Eastern European Jews of that era.



    Hope you enjoyed our vicarious walking tour of sites of Jewish experience in Boston's South End. Remember that you, too, can utilize our guidebook, BostonWalks The Jewish Friendship Trail Guidebook to actually discover some of these sites on your own!




  • For ideas for additional Jewish and other ethnic walking tours of Boston,
    click on the following websites:





    To learn more about BostonWalks Publishers title,
    The Ten Commandments Guidebook
    click on the following websites:







    Now available!


    The Jewish Friendship Trail Guidebook

    6 Self-Guided Walking/Bicycling Jewish Boston History Tours

    Covers Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge

    Softcover 198 pages with maps & b/w photos

    Click here
    Book Order Form
    to order now!



    Now available!


    The Ten Commandments Guidebook

    Ways to Self-Struggle with Classic Morals

    In Song, Poetry, and Prose

    Covers 10 Commandments Plus One Other!

    Softcover 153 pages with practical suggestions pages!

    Click here
    Book Order Form
    to order now!












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    BostonWalks

    Integrating the urban, modern Jewish American city experience with its historical sites and themes in such locales as Boston, MA, Portland, ME, East Bay and Providence, RI, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan, NYC.



    img FileneimgBest of BostonimgNYC UWSimgBrandeis imgLove Your NeighborimgWatertown, New Town, & Muddy RiverimgWalk Near WaterimgRefute HateimgWalk West/North EndsimgWe're OneimgPray HereimgMeditationimgClubsimgBrooklineimgSensual WalksimgMore LoveimgReportingimgJewish BooksimgTENimgSouth End imgWhat's a political mensch? imgMore "What's a political mensch?"



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    Table of Contents of Boston Walks The Jewish Friendship Trail