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The Jewish Community of Newburyport

What are the stories of the Jews of Newburyport?  Where did they come from, how did they get here and why did they choose to settle here?

Judge Norman Espovich told Bertha Woodman that there were Jews in Newburyport as early as 1886.  He said that Samson Levy was postmaster from 1886 to 1890.  He was also the alderman from Ward 3 in 1871 and 1872.  He was representative to the General Court in January 1 1879 along with Bajamin Atlanson.  Who was he and where did he come from?  The answers are in the library, old city directories, newspapers and in City Hall vital statistics.  He was born in Germany, son of Joann Levy and Amelia Myers.  He died February 4 1918 at the age of 84 and was buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery.  He married Martha C. George of Newburyport native and had five children.  No one of that name live here now.

Other names mentioned were Solomon Bachman and Meyer Berheimer, who both lived at 63 High Street.  The Bachman daughter married Meyer Bernheimer who later changed their name to Bernholm.  There is a stained glass window at the Baptist church given by these ladies in memory of their mother and grandmother Sally Dow Clemen.  The Bernheimes gave a great deal of money to the Hospital.  They also entertained lavishly to raise money for local improvements. Where they Jewish?

Dating back to 1902 we find a local junk dealer name Libman.

Let us look at the present local Jewish community.  According to the city directories of 1902-1903, Harry Stillman is listed as a tailor at 15 Sumer Street.  Sam Trebach a bootmaker lived at 54 Merrimack Street and Charles Barth, a teamster lived at 145 Water Street.

By 1905  we find many Jews with familiar names. Checkoway, Disman, Goldsmith, Harnch, Hirscg, Issacson, Levin, Lboritch, Nemser, Saklad, Salter, Swartzfield, Traister, Zimmerman, and Diamond.

The present Jewish community was formally established in 1896.  That is not to say that services where not held prior to that time.  They met in various places. Abe Edelstein told the story of them meeting in rooms on Market Square opposite the fire station, over stores.  One of the rooms was rented to the Cadet Band of Newburyport.  If they had a job on Sunday, they would rehearse on Saturday, much to the annoyance of the Jews trying to worship,  As they would practice the National Anthem, the men would try to say the Shemah,  They also worshipped in the Old Music Hall on Pleasent Street,  About 1907 they bought a house on Liberty and Independence Street used by the Salvation Army.  Elizabeth Jacoby tells that the owner of the building know that the Jews wanted to buy it and did not want to sell it to them, He arranged the auction to be held on Saturday so  that they could not bid on it, but her grandfather found this very distasteful and went to the auction and bought it.  On the following Monday he sold it to the Jews.  It was then remodeled to hold a mikvah(ritual bath), a Hebrew school, a sanctuary for worship and living quarter for the teacher or Rabbi, who had to perform whatever necessary service for the Jewish community,  In 1905 the man was Joshua B. Saklad.

According to the charter hanging in the present synagogue, the officers included Isaac Hirsh, as President, and Issac Barth as Treasurer.  The house on Linery Street had been built in 1827 on the same site as the Baptist Meeting House, consumed in the great fire of 1811.  The brick building on Liberty Steet was sold to Stephen Pillsbury who converted it into a dwelling in 1865, when the Methodists moved to there new meeting house on the corner of Olive and Washington Street.  This is the present building.  They united with the Methodists on Purchase Street in 1927 and in 19345 the Jewish Community established themselves here at Washington and Olive Street.  The first $1000.00

Towards the purchase price was donated by the Ladies Aid Society.  On September 10, 1933(19 Elul 5693) the new Synagogue was dedicated.  The Newburyport Daily News of that day reported: “It was a big day for the Jewish people of Newburyport and was the result of the work of many years.  It was estimated that over 700 members of the Jewish faith attended the opening ceremonies, plus hundreds more came to extend their best wishes.  Harry D. Stillman, had the honor of opening the door for the first time.  Jacob W. Shoul, Chairman of the Executive Committee was in char of the program and was introduced by Harry Both, President of the congregation.

In 1935, we engraved our first Rabbi, Chaim Esrog. He was followed by Rabbi Chaim Goldin. In 1939 our beloved Rabbi Shalom S. Yellin came to serve our community, and he served with distinction for 27 years.  (In 1966 the congregation bought a home for the rabbi at 15 Carlton Drive.  The cemetery association under the direction of President Samuel Traister, contributed a large sum of money to help reduce the mortgage payments of this house.  The rabbi and Mrs. Yellin lived there until his death on May 25, 1967.)We must mention the bronze yahrzeit memorial tablets which have been in out sanctuary from 1948 on.  These tablets, now numbering four, where dedicated to the memory of Moishe and Breine Edelstein, Mendel(Max) and Rose Traisrer, Louis Fellman, and to Edward and Summer Goldsmith, father and son.

We recall also the dedication of the bronze tablet in our entrance hall, bearing the names of those who served in the two World Wars.  It carries 4 stars for Newburyport-Amesbury sons who made the supreme sacrifice.  A 24-star service flag, honoring members of Congregation Ahavas Achim who where in our country’s military service, was dedicated on November 2, 1942.

An interesting thing to make mention of at this point is to list organizations in out community, past and present, and the dates that they where organized.

1. Ladies Aid and Sisterhood 1911

2. Newburyport -Amesbury Chapter of Hadassah 1917

3. The Credit Union 1934

4. The Brotherhood 1942

5. The Edward Goldsmith Zionist District 1943

6. Jewish War Veterans Post and Auxiliary 1948

7. Young Judea teen-agers groups 1949

8. High School youth Groups 1958

9. Jewish Community Council 1959

10. B’nai Birth 1961

What are some of the reasons that Jews came to Newburyport? The present community came from Eastern European countries.  The Pale in the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and places in between.  Some came because of the pogroms. Some told of fathers leaving to escape serving in the Czar’s army then struggled to save money to send for their wives and children.  Their stories where typical of most of the Eastern European Jews that one reads about except for the fact that they Jews of Newburyport were very religious.  One of the primary reasons they came was to be able to observe the Sabbath.  They were mostly in business for themselves: entrepreneurs, junk dealers, cobblers, tailors, teamsters, bakers, and peddlers.  How they all eeked out a living is hard to say, but survivors they were, and many of them, and their children have prospered.

Most settled in the Ferry Wharf area and Sid Weiner’s description is a good one.  “It was like a court years with buildings all around.  Tenement upstairs and either warehouses or stores downstairs.”  Some of the addressed they had in the directory are 8 Water Street, 9 Ferry Wharf, 13 Water Street,  25 Liberty Street, 11 Water Street, and 3 Ferry Wharf.

By 1912 and 1913 they had spread out a little and the Burdno’s were on Bromfield Street; the Traisters were on Fair Street and so where the Edelstein’s The Woodman’s lived further down on Water Street the Diamonds, Trebachs and Nemsers were on Merrimac Street.  Other early settlers were the Zeidman, Kaufman, Stillmar, Trebach, Nemser, Brudro, Barth, Ossen, Lubovitch and Hirsch families. 

What did the Jews of Newburyport do for recreation?  There were quite a few good athletes who played football and baseball.  On Thanksgiving day as an annual ritual in the early 1920’s the Irish and the Jews held a game at Cashman Field.

From 1915 - 1925 there were picnics and Salisbury Beach played a big part in social activities.  Dances were held at the Ocean Echo.  Some families had cottages on the South end where they rented rooms for the summer.  Many a marital match was made between the Jewish young people in the Merrimack Valley.  And it seems that everyone can recollect the many social affairs at the beach.

In the 1930 the girls had an active Junior Hadassah.  The Edelstein sisters were very creative.  They could write parodies on the popular sons and put on great shows that all of us came down to watch.  The Coltin brothers has a great dance orchestra and had dances at a hall on Pleasant Street that attracted people from all over the North Shore.

A major renovation of the synagogue was observed with a rededication service on August 27, 1950.  The exterior of the building was repainted white.  The main sanctyrat received red carpeted aisles, new paint, new drapery and other ornamentation.  The downstairs rooms were also repainted.  Louis Boxer and Rubin Cetlin had the honor of opening the doors.  Mrs. Ida Kray and Mrs. Burton Checkoway cut the fastenings at the entrance to the altar.  At that time Benjamin Kaplan opened the Ark.

Cantor Leon Gold of Roxbury led the carries of the Torahs.  They where borne by Morris Edelstein, Isaac Chckoway, Samual Traister, Edward Gordon, Louis Boxer, Samuel Kalman, Morris Weiner, and James Edelstein.  Burton Checkoway placed the golden crown on the Torah and Eternal Light was put on by Hyman Kirsner.

The renovation committee was Abraham Edelstein, chairman Samuel Kalman, Jules Elkin, and William Mitchell.

Through the years, the membership continued to make an effort to continually improve and upgrade the building.  In 1958 a new heating system was donated to the synagogue by George Rosenfield.

In 1959, John Alexander became chairman of the house committee, a position to which he gave tireless service for many years.  In that year the Jewish Community held a very impressive interfaith meeting in our sanctuary with Thurgood Marshall, now a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, as the featured speaker.  What a memorable evening that was!

1962 saw the placement of our Golden Book of Remembrance on a stand in out sanctuary.  This was donated in memory of Samual and Dora Boxer by the Boxer family.

Plans were being made for the dedication of the new chapel at this time at our Newburyport Hebrew Cemetery in Salisbury.  Sam Traister was president of the cemetery association, a portion he still occupies.

The decade of the Sixties found president Hans Zimmern and the congregation dealing with the problem of decreasing membership due to deaths and families moving away and the necessity of maintaining a large building in the face of a rapidly increasing costs.

In 1966 Louis Fellman was honored for his services as cantor for many years, and for his community efforts.

In 1967 Mrs. Sara Yellin returned to her home in Israel.  The congregation presented her with memorial funds, a tribute to the late Rabbi Shalom Yellin.

Our next rabbi was Joel Balk who was welcomed at a reception on September 10, 1967.  After him came Rabbis Zahn and Silver for short periods, and they where followed by Rabbi Saul Wisemon for 1972-1973.  Our last Rabbi Leopold Kagan served from 1975 to 1977.

In 1968, with David Harnch the president, the synagogue was given a new ‘face-lift’. It included painting, carpeting, new covers for the pews and new window drapes.  When Dave left Office a few years later, he was honored with the designation President Emeritus.

In 1971 the Lebman Judaica Library, housed in our Public Library, was created in memory of Joesph and Agnes Lebman by their children.  The library has grown considerably over the years.

Our longtime treasurer, Maurice Kalman died suddenly in 1973, a great loss to the congregation.

The mid-Seventies saw Louis Traister as president and Sam Traister as Chairman of the Board.  In the latter part of the decade, as the renaissance of Newburyport under urban renewal was taking place, and with improved economic conditions, we started to see an influx of Jewish families into our area. With many new families joining our congregation, it appeared that out long period of stagnation was over.  Most of the new members were young couples with children, consequently our Religious School began to grow by leaps and bounds.  This growth was continued into the Eighties, and as of today we have 115 families in our congregation.

Leonard Kaufman came to us in 1976 as cantor for our High Holy Days.  For the past ten years he has saved us ably in that role and as leader of the services.  In that year Dr. Barrie Paster became Vice-President and active member of the Ritual Committee.  Along with President Traister, Dr. Paster has been an integrate part of our High Holy Day services and other religious events.

In 1979 a testimonial dinner was held to honor Louis Traister, president and Sam Traister, chairman, in appreciation of their extraordinary efforts in maintaining the synagogue during the difficult years.  Their dedication and willingness to serve has paved the way for the rapid growth that we are experiencing at the present.

In 1981 a new constitution was adopted.  It was the first revision in many years, and it has served to facilitate the operations of all aspects of the revived congregation.  The following year Ronald Rutchick was elected Chairman of the Executive Board.

The synagogue hums with activity these days, as it did in the past. Space does not permit the listing of all the many projects and events that have taken place in the past three or four years.  But to mention a few: the institution of monthly family services and onegs(—needed to look up this word, it captures what I am trying to do with membership - site I found the data——https://www.adatshalom.net/participatory-community1/oneg#what) sponsored by the Sisterhood have been a welcome addition. A volunteer crew of members has insulated out attic and redecorated out entrance hall school room; the exterior of the building was repaired and painted.  Many special holiday and social events have taken place including Purim Carnivals, Sukkot celebrations, Community Shabbat Dinners, Annual Yom Kippur Break- the Fast, Model Seders, and Chanukah plays are among our activities.  Meanwhile, a faithful few have kept the Saturday morning minyan going with their consistent attendance and dedication.

What happened to some of the young people who stayed in Newburyport?  Louis Traister and Abe Edelstein had very nice show stores.  Bill Coltin writes for the Daily News.  The Katz’s(Premier Market) is near the Post Office on Pleasant Street, Kray’s is still in business.  It is run by Elaine Tucker, granddaughter of Benjamin Kray the founder.  And the following families are still here in the Newburyport area:  Goldsmith, Mitchell, Woodman, Checkoway, Edelstein, Hirsch, Harnch, Krojen, Cohen, Treback. Kirsner. Boxer. Wein, Traister, Shoreman, somers, Bloom, Fram, Fellman, Barth, Kantowitz, Blake Liss, Acker, Wexler, Feigenbaum, Rindler, Lebman, Sniderman, Schwartz, Youngman, Coltin, Goldberg, and Brudno.

Dora Krohn at 92 still celebrates Shabbat and keeps a kosher home.  The traditions are alive and well there is is still a thriving Jewish Community in Newburyport today.

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Appreciation to the following for assisting in researching, writing and editing this historic amount: Bertha Woodman, Bill Coltin, Sid Weiner, Ron Rutchick, Anna Smilowitz and Alan Schutz.

Data is from January 1986, to the Jewish community beginning

Sun, November 29 2020 13 Kislev 5781