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Our History

The Adams Street Shul was founded by Jews who came to Newton primarily from Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century. By 1901, at least half of the Jewish families arriving in Newton had settled in the Nonantum section of the city.

After many years of davening in people's homes and in other larger and rented spaces, it became clear that the community required a formal synagogue. On October 6, 1911, Congregation Agudas Achim Anshei Sfard was granted an official charter by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On December 15, 1912, three days after the end of Chanukah, the building itself was officially opened on Adams Street and formally dedicated with great fanfare and celebration.

The neo-Romanesque facade expressed the confidence of the recent immigrants that their shul could evoke the same grandeur of the larger contemporary synagogues of the period, albeit in a more simplified form.  Due to the lack of adequate funds, however, the sanctuary still lacked some of the typical features of a synagogue.  Through great fundraising efforts by the congregants, a magnificent Holy Ark and central bimah, designed and built by famed local craftsman Sam Katz, were installed in 1924.  The Ark is still the "crown jewel" of the sanctuary, the central focus of the space, and the pride of all who experience its wonderful details.  Until the 1950's, the shul still lacked proper seating.  People continued to sit at school desks acquired from Wellesley College in 1917!  The benches used today, about as old as the synagogue itself, were obtained from Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline when they were renovating their sanctuary.

By the 1950's, due to the gradual exodus of Jews from Nonantum over the previous decades, attendance occurred only on the High Holidays and Festivals.  Regular weekly Shabbat services had ceased.  However, one stalwart individual, Elmer Lippin, opened the building every Shabbat, even though no one showed up.  Why?  To him, the answer was obvious and stated simply in Yiddish: "A shul miz zein offin." (A shul must be open).

The fate of The Adams Street Shul, like other synagogues of its time, seemed obvious: destruction or conversion to an alternate use.

In 1986, 75 years after its founding, however, a new history of the shul began.  A few young families began to move into the neighborhood and helped spark over the ensuing years a gradual renewal of synagogue life.  By 1995, the shul was fully renovated.  Against all odds, this little shul has survived and it continues to thrive a century later.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Adams Street Shul remains a true symbol of Jewish Boston's longevity and lasting spirit!


Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784