Like other northeastern American cities, Boston began to draw Jewish immigrants in significant numbers beginning in the 1870s and accelerating in the decades before and after the turn of the twentieth century. As Jews migrated internally within the city, from crowded areas of the North and West Ends, through the South End, Roxbury, and on to the “streetcar suburbs” of Dorchester and Mattapan, then out toward the suburban enclaves of neighboring cities like Brookline, Newton, and Sharon, they frequently traded buildings and land with the African American community.
First Jews from Central Europe settled in what was then the South End (around today’s theater district), and moved into newer parts of the South End being built by the city as Back Bay was filled in. Then within two decades, as East European Jews moved from the North End to the West End and north slope of Beacon Hill, of the city’s oldest black churches founded in that neighborhood purchased grand synagogue buildings in the South End as African Americans moved into the neighborhood and Jews and Jewish congregations moved south into Roxbury and west into Brookline. Both Jewish and African American communities continued to move south in the first half of the twentieth century into Roxbury and Dorchester, especially along Blue Hill Avenue. In the post-World War II years the Jewish communities established in those neighborhoods increasingly moved further west and south beyond the city’s borders, and in the process sold their religious and cultural buildings to predominantly African American churches. Many of these spaces, particularly those that housed places of worship, served and still serve as anchors of their neighborhoods and communities.
The following story map traces Jewish migration within the city of Boston by focusing exclusively on communal and religious sites that exchanged hands between Jewish and African American communities. The map is particularly indebted to the work of the historian and political scientist Gerald Gamm, as well as the data compiled by the genealogist Carol Clingan. Many historical images are from the collections of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society (which houses the previous Boston collections of the American Jewish Historical Society) and the digitized collections in the Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections. You can find a full list of resources consulted below and on the last page of the story map.
The following story-map was created and built by Harrison Beiser, Kayla Lavelle, and Shira Weiss. The map is viewed best on desktop device.
Works Cited and Further Reading
Digital Archival Resources, Exhibits, and Government Websites
Dixon, Taya, Alisa Augenstein and Betsy Friedberg. “Home for Destitute Jewish Children,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2014.
- Photo collections.
- Boston YMHA-Hecht House Records; I-74.
- Vilna Shul (Boston, Mass.) Records; I-598.
Gamm, Gerald H. Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.
Kosofsky, Scott-Martin, Jonathan D. Sarna, and Ellen Smith eds. The Jews of Boston 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 2005. The following chapters were of particular use:
- Gerald H. Gamm, "In Search of the Suburbs: Boston's Jewish Districts, 1843-1994," 137-173.
- David Kaufman, "Temples in the American Athens: A History of the Synagogues of Boston," 175-218.
- Appendix A, "The Jewish Population of Boston," 343-344.
Lederhendler, Eli. Jewish Immigrants and American Capitalism, 1880-1920: From Caste to Class. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Thernstrom, Stephan. The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880-1970. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973.
Synagogue, Church, Community, and Non-Profit Websites