The history of the Somerville Jewish community is very much intertwined with the history of its only synagogue, Temple B’nai Brith. B’nai Brith has been the nucleus of the Somerville Jewish community since its inception in the early 20th century. In 1903, Somerville’s Hebrew Education Society began holding religious services in various locations. These scattered services, initiated by new immigrants, would soon form Congregation B’nai Brith. In 1915, the congregation purchased the land at 201 Central Street in Somerville, and the synagogue remains on that property to this day.
Men of Temple B地ai Briths2_slides/SO005.jpg
Bottom row, from left: Morris A. Goldman, Merrill Solberg, Bert Newman, Sam Winer, ?, ?, Martin Weiss, Allan Korb; 2nd row: Fred Solberg, George Izen, Bob Coppelman, Ted Gorfine, Joe Swartz, Joe Goldman Jack Adler; 3rd row: ?, ?, Bob Weiss; 4th row: Sumner Weiss, M. Marcus, Herb Fine, Allan Weiner (?), Jorday Perlson; Top row: Sumner Hirshberg, ?, ?, Harold Shear, Saul Hirshberg. Courtesy of Temple B地ai Brith
Variety Show at Temple B'nai Brith. From left: Ruth Kotell, Debby Mabel, Edythe Fishman, Brenda Mabel. Courtesy of Temple B地ai Brith
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Photograph from the wedding album of Freda and Robert Tubman. The couple got married at Temple B'nai Brith on September 21, 1947. Courtesy of Harold Tubman
William and Anna Small in front of their Somerville house. Courtesy of Harold Tubman
Somerville resident, Melvin Small, two blocks from Temple B'nai Brith. Courtesy of Harold Tubman
Melvin, William, Freda and Anna Small. Courtesy of Harold Tubman
Inspection Card of Freda Smushin (later changed to Small), November 7, 1925. Courtesy of Harold Tubman
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Temple B'nai Brith. ｩ American Jewish Historical Society
Children's Sukkot celebration at Temple B'nai Brith, 1945. Courtesy of Isabel Barnert
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Members of Temple B'nai Brith with Rabbi Leo Shubow. Courtesy of Temple B地ai Brith
Temple B'nai Brith Confirmation Class 1953
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Israel Bonds group on steps of Temple B'nai Brith, Somerville, c. 1950s. Courtesy of Isabel Barnert
From the 1920s to the 1950s, B’nai Brith thrived as a center for Jewish life, serving both the Somerville and Medford communities. Perhaps because it was the only synagogue in Somerville, it functioned as a meeting place, a house of worship, and a Hebrew School – serving all the needs of its community members.
Unlike some of the other Mystic River communities, Somerville was not a center of Jewish life. However, there were Jewish businesses, such as Harry’s Hardware and Fred Solberg’s Hardware stores on Broadway, and Maurice Green and Kopelman’s grocery stores. Members of the congregation lived and worked throughout the city, creating a very close-knit, familial Jewish community in this predominantly Irish and Italian Catholic neighborhood.
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Like many of the other Mystic River Jewish communities, Somerville experienced a period of decline. In the 1970s membership at B’nai Brith dwindled and the congregation struggled to remain open. The religious school closed and the congregation’s longtime rabbi, Leo Shubow, retired after serving the community for thirty-two years. However, unlike some of the other communities, B’nai Brith was able to rebuild itself. In the 1980s, newcomers came to the synagogue and were mentored by the older generation. Additionally, the congregation received a new spiritual leader, Phil Weiss, who continues to serve the community today.
In the 1990s, the Hebrew School reopened and today, Congregation B’nai Brith once again functions as an active center of Jewish life in Somerville. It welcomes Somerville’s diverse Jewish population and those from the neighboring cities and towns, attracting members from Arlington, Newton, Lexington and other surrounding communities. It holds regular religious services, children’s school, arts and cultural programs. B’nai Brith serves as a testament to the strength and endurance of the Somerville Jewish community and its deep commitment to maintaining a meaningful presence within the larger Somerville community.