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About Malden

In 1629, a section of hilly woodlands north of the Mystic River, was purchased from the Pawtucket Indians, and called Mystic Side. It was incorporated into the township of Charlestown. But by 1649, residents of Mystic Side had petitioned the General Court to let them form a separate township, to be called Malden.  By 1882, Malden became a city with a population of over 12,000. 

Although modest in size, Malden became home to one of the largest concentrations of Jews north of Boston.  In particular, the Suffolk Square section of Ward 7 became the focal point of the Malden Jewish community.  By 1921, Malden’s Jewish population was almost 9,000 and reached almost 15,000 through the 1940s.  At its height, the Jewish community represented almost a quarter of the entire population of Malden.

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Just 7 miles north of Boston, Malden had a very distinct character from its metropolitan neighbor. As more immigrants began calling Malden home, it became a microcosm of the Jewish immigrant experience at that time. Their lives revolved around their Jewish identity – specialty food stores, kosher butchers, bakeries and variety stores were all Jewish owned and operated in Ward 7.  On Thursday afternoons the stores were busy, with people preparing for Shabbat, and on Fridays, Jewish shops closed early.

There were six synagogues in Ward 7 during its Jewish heyday – five Orthodox and one Conservative.  Much like Chelsea and other Mystic River communities, during the High Holidays, the streets were filled with Jews, observant and non-observant alike.  In addition to synagogues, other Jewish institutions arose in the early part of the century, such as a Hebrew school.  By 1910, the House of Solomon Talmud Torah, a comprehensive Hebrew School that shared a building with the YMHA and the Junior Zionist Literary Club, had been built in the Suffolk Square section of Ward 7.

The influx of Jews into Ward 7 during the early 20th century contributed to a significant demographic shift in the neighborhood.  In 1900, Ward 7 had been predominantly Protestant, lower middle class with about 10% Irish and approximately 3% Jewish.  By 1912, over 50% of Ward 7’s residents were Jewish and by 1928, almost 75% of the Ward was Jewish.  Jewish immigrants of all ages settled in Malden.  As the Jewish population grew, local landmarks became Jewish as well.  The Faulkner Methodist Church was bought by the Jewish community and became Congregation Beth Israel—Malden’s first permanent synagogue.  While this concentration created a strong Jewish community, it also added to the separation that existed between Jews and other ethnic groups in Malden.

According to Malden Jewish historian, Richard Klayman, from 1900-1960, the small cities and towns along the Mystic River were home to varying Jewish populations.  Small shop owners dominated in places such as Malden and Chelsea, especially in those enclaves that had a variety of Jewish grocery stores, meat markets, and other small retail operations.  Army and navy stores and smaller department stores often had Jewish proprietorship. However, the sons and daughters of these small retailers usually did not follow the lead of their parents, but went onto college and frequently developed professional careers. As the result of their higher education and achievements, they began to set their sites on establishing themselves in more affluent communities.  Like most of the other Mystic River communities, the Jewish population hit its peak in the early to mid-20th century and quickly began to disperse to the suburbs. Places such as Peabody, Marblehead and Swampscott were beacons for upwardly mobile Jews and other ethnic and racial groups. Although it has been through a cycle of diminishment, the Malden Jewish community is now beginning to enjoy a period of re-growth.  Today’s Jewish community in Malden is able to build upon the solid foundation laid by generations past.