The Ohabei Shalom Cemetery, located in East Boston, was built in 1844 by the Boston Jewish community. Prior to the establishment of the Ohabei Shalom Cemetery, Jews in Massachusetts would seek burial in distant locations like Rhode Island, which eventually led Temple Ohabei Shalom to purchase land in East Boston and with the permission of the Boston City Council establish it as a cemetery. As such, the Ohabei Shalom Cemetery became the first legal Jewish cemetery in the state of Massachusetts. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
The design and architecture of the chapel and grave markers inside Ohabei Shalom Cemetery has been suggested to show the acculturation of Jewish immigrants into American society overtime. Pictured in the first and second photo, the chapel, built in 1903, is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery chapel in Massachusetts. It is a product of the gothic revival style of architecture, which was a popular style for Christian churches in Europe and the United States during the nineteenth century. By building the exterior of their religious spaces in congruence to architectural styles common to popular Christian styles, Boston’s Jewish community at that time sought to create the impression of blending in with American society and tradition.
Signs of Jewish acculturation can also be seen in the progression of designs on the grave markers. The earlier sections of the cemetery—built first—have narrower grave markers, many featuring traditional Jewish symbols like the tree of life, broken tree trunks, and a pair of hands. The majority of the markers in the older section are most often in Hebrew only and occasionally English. Grave markers in the later sections are mostly built in a Victorian style, common to classic American funeral tradition, and are often labeled only in English.
Photography and text by Katherine Dzekon.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Moffson, Steven H. “Identity and Assimilation in Synagogue Architecture in Georgia, 1870-1920.” Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture 9 (2003): 151–65.