BRIDGE to understanding
Jewish Friendship Trail offers walking guide of sites in Boston
By BARBARA FISH
The Patriot Ledger
As a South Shore resident, chances are good that you've traveled the Freedom Trail. And you've probably
walked along Boston's Black Heritage path as well. But have you experienced the Jewish Friendship Trail?
A tour of Jewish historical sites is available through BostonWalks' "Jewish Friendship Trail Guidebook."
The book is a step-by-step journey throughout Boston, Brookline and Cambridge to significant and often
unknown landmarks in Jewish history.
A walk down Salem Street in Boston's North End, for example, will show the street's past, lined with
kosher butchers, synagogues and Jewish schools. In fact, the book leads the reader to
a narrow alleyway where, in small and fading letters above a doorway, it still reads, "Hebrew School."
Michael Ross of Bedford, the guidebooks self-published author, set out to show "stories that can be
discovered by walking around Boston."
Ross' Jewish Friendship Guidebook includes six self-guided tours in various sections of the city,
and each site listing has historical information as well as stories and anecdotes.
Ross says he wants readers to gain "the joy of discovery that I had" while researching.
On one tour, Ross leads the reader to the Charles Theater Playhouse, which was a synagogue in the
mid 1800s, he says.
He suggests the reader visit Filene's, the famous department store started as a small clothing shop by
Jewish German immigrants William and Clara Filene in 1890.
Another trip leads to 114 Mount Vernon Street, the former home of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish member
of the Supreme Court.
A struggle that Ross describes as a "balancing act between self identity and assimilation" is also seen
through stories in his book. He includes a few locations that were home to organizations
created to help Jewish immigrants adjust to American life.
He says memories like these helped him include "friendship" in the title of his guidebook.
"The Jews, wherever they've gone, have tried to adapt (to that culture) and they
wanted to be accepted," he said.
The cover photo of Ross' book, which includes the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge, reflects this as
well. Zakim, the former head of Boston's Anti-Defamation League, "reflects our strong, late-20th
century, Jewish commitment to respectful multi-culturalism here," he said.
The stories and facts in the book are based on Ross' nearly ten years of research,
both on foot and through books.
An avid reader, Ross began finding information about past and present Jewish landmarks
"I was curious to see whether these sights actually existed, and some of them do," he said.
He began to group them into different sections of the city and led walking tours highlighting some of
those sites. He still does, and often leads groups of 40 or more, he says.
The tours evolved into the first edition of the guidebook in June 2000 and to his publishing and
walking tour company, BostonWalks.
Ross quickly learned that his walks could be a "vehicle for learning."
A lawyer and landlord by vocation, Ross views his guidebooks as an "avocation. This is a way for me
to continue to learn and participate," he said.
He hopes others will participate in Jewish history by following the guidebook's paths.
"I tried to make it possible for individuals to take these tours on their own to sites of
Jewish experience to give the opportunity for Jews and non-Jews to discover
some of the sites of that history," Ross said.
For more information, contact Michael Ross [via] bostonwalks.tripod.com
[ http://bostonwalks.tripod.com/JewishFriendshipTrail.html ]
Copyright The Patriot Ledger September 20, 2003.