Tuesday, November 12, 2013

USA: Former Synagogues in Springfield, Massachusetts

Springfield, MA. Former Beth Israel, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

 
Springfield, MA. Former Beth Israel, 1923. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013


  Springfield, MA. Former Beth Israel, 1923.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
 
USA: Former Synagogues in Springfield, Massachusetts
by Samuel D. Gruber

I recently had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Springfield, Massachusetts, where I was lecturing on the modern synagogue architecture of Percival Goodman and the art of sculptor Ibram Lassaw, both of whom contributed to Temple Beth El, first opened in 1953 and then rebuilt and rededicated in 1968 after a devastating fire destroyed the original building.   While in Springfield I got to see a lot of the area, including former Jewish neighborhoods on the North Side and in Forest Park. 

Judaica book dealer Ken Schoen and artist and activist Jane Trigere took me around to see the sights.  Ken and Jane live in Deerfield, home of Schoen Books, and a gallery the two have just opened in an old bank building, but a decade ago Jane did research on the history of Springfield's synagogues when she was student in the Jewish art program at JTS, and she was happy to share her knowledge (I hope that someday soon Jane will publish her findings).

In this post I'll show the oldest standing synagogue buildings in Springfield, all erected between 1921 and 1924, when the immigrant communicates had settled enough, and amassed enough wealth to be able to build.

The North Side, home for decades of the city's Eastern European Jewish immigrant population, has been substantially wiped clean by so-called urban renewal of the 1960s and 70s, but two former synagogue survive, now used as churches.  By 1910 Jews had largely replaced an older Irish population on the North Side.  According to Jane Trigere: "With the large influx of Jews from Eastern Europe in the 1890’s, Springfield Jews numbered a thousand—all Orthodox in their observance. Services moved to bigger and bigger rentals until the group incorporated as Beth Israel in 1892 and built the first synagogue in Springfield on Gray’s Avenue. It was always known as the Gray’s Avenue Shul" and was demolished in the 1960s by the Springfield Redevelopment Authority. In 1923 the congregation built a bigger synagogue, commonly known as the "Big Shul," at 565 Chestnut Street, where thy remained until they left the North Side move in the early 1970’s and moved to Forest Park."

Jews still live in Forest Park, a lovely neighborhood on the south of Springfield, adjacent to the magnificent park that gives the neighborhood its name, but many have moved just further south to the wealthier suburb of Londmeadow, with its impressive houses and excellent school system.  The small town had been closed to Jews in the pre-war period, when many of its fine houses were built.  Since the 1960s the demographics of the area have changed and this has affected the "Jewish geogrpahy" of this part of Western Massachusetts.  The Springfield mid-century modern synagogues of the 1960s that were south of most Jewish settlement when they were built, are now north. 


    Springfield, MA., Former Congregation Sons of Israel, 1321 Dwight St., 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
 

 Springfield, MA., Former Congregation Sons of Israel, 1321 Dwight St., 1924. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013
 
In 1902 thirteen members seceded from Beth Israel to form Congregation Sons of Israel. According to Trigere: "They, too, rented various modest locations until they built Springfield’s second synagogue at 1321 Dwight St. in 1924.  They were Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia and therefore their synagogue became known as the Russische Shul. This group remained the longest in the North End and eventually disbanded. The members were absorbed by other congregations and their building was sold to a church."  Today, the building is occupied by Daniel’s New Beth El Church in Christ.


 Springfield, MA. Former Beth Israel, 1923. Note generous setback form street.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

Both Sons of Israel and Beth Israel are fairly typical of their time, though the Gothic windows of  Sons of Israel was probably a little out of date at the time of construction.  Both congregations understandably lavished more attention to their building facades - which stand as separate attached blocks made of finer brick - than to the main buildings behind.  Sons of Israel sits directly at the sidewalk, near the street line, but Beth Israel was built set back from the street, with a landscaped green space buffer between building and street.  Clearly this congregation had more money and could afford a much bigger lot.  This type of park like setting presages the common development of suburban synagogues set in greenery of the post-World War II years.


Springfield, MA. Former Kodimoh synagogue, built 1921-23, now Calvary's Love Church. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013


Springfield, MA. Former Kodimoh synagogue, built 1921-23, now Calvary's Love Church. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013



Springfield, MA. Former Kodimoh synagogue, built 1921-23, now Calvary's Love Church.  This was an Orthodox shul, so the ample stained glass windows are made of colorful geometric - not representational - compositions.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.


The last of the old standing shuls is Kodimoh, the first Orthodox congregation to establish itself in Forest Park, already in 1916. According to Trigere, after meeting in member's homes, "in 1921 under the new name Kodimoh, they laid the cornerstone for their first synagogue at 19 Oakland Street... dedicated in 1923, the same year that Beth Israel (above), still in the North End, built The Big Shul. The congregation had 250 members but as it grew, forty years late, in 1963, they built themselves a new synagogue nearby at 124 Sumner Ave."  The new building combined traditional Romanesque details with the strong massing and central dome of the new Byzantine style.  The building was subsequently sold to Congregation Kesher Israel, and more recently The Centro Cristiano Nacion de Jesus.  When  Kesher closed its doors, it almost ended the Orthodox community in Forest Park.  Today, a smaller minyan meets in part of the former (modern) Kodimoh Synagogue, built in 1963, and now owned by a church which allows the small Jewish congregation to use the premises, one of the few instances I know where an Orthodox congregation shares a facility with Christians.

1 comment:

Fire Sparks said...

I have rarely had such an attentive and knowledgeable audience as you on my tours of Springfield synagogues and neighborhoods. Thank you. I look forward to more collaborations with you.
Jane at the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts (www.jhswm.org)