The story of the Winthrop Jewish community is not a singular story. Although it had a small Jewish presence, its history is a composite of various narratives, experiences and memories. Remarkably, despite Winthrop’s small Jewish presence, it fostered a diverse and engaged Jewish community.
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Dedication – Torahs being carried from Temple Center building, Temple Israel, Winthrop, MA Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Torahs being carried into the new Temple Israel, Winthrop, MA Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Tablesetting for first Oneg Shabbat (from left) Mrs. Melvin Mael, Mrs. Sylvan Katz, Mrs. William Greenblatt, Rabbi Hyman Friedman, Rev. H. Leon Masovetsky at Temple Israel, Winthrop, MA. Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Hebrew School at Temple Israel, Winthrop, MA Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Cantor, the Rev. H. Leon Masovetsky, in approximately 1964, after 37 years with Temple Tifereth Israel, Winthrop. He came to Winthrop in July of 1927 and served the community as its only spiritual leader, being Cantor, preacher, principal and teacher of the Hebrew School. He oversaw the growth of the school from an enrollment of 40 children to more than 200 and the expansion of the temple from 200 to more than 500 families. Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Community Center, Temple Israel, Winthrop Courtesy of Rona Mael
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First Temple Israel in Winthrop Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Hebrew School Assembly at Temple Israel, Winthrop. Courtesy of Rona Mael
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Alan Pransky and sister in Winthrop, October 1953 Courtesy of Alan Pransky
Winthrop was a small town, described by some as a summer resort along the Atlantic coastline. While a town of this size can sometimes feel isolated from others, for Winthrop’s Jewish residents it created a sense of closeness among its community members. This is perfectly illustrated in a story recounted by Freda Saltz, a longtime Winthrop resident.
Freda had just given birth to her son and wanted to serve chickpeas at his bris – a food representing good luck. She went to the local store and was told that they had just sold the last pound of chickpeas to someone else. Rather than sending her elsewhere, the storeowner called that person and retrieved the chickpeas for the bris. It was the kind of community where everyone knew each other and was willing to make sacrifices for one another.
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Winthrop’s Jewish community had one synagogue—Tifereth Israel. The synagogue, like many others of its time, observed Orthodox Judaism. However, as the younger generation moved in, they expressed a desire for it to follow Conservative Judaism. Attempting to satisfy all parties involved, the leadership of Tifereth Israel designated some rows as separate seating, while others were designated to allow men and women to sit together. It was this coexistence of the older Orthodox generation and the younger Conservative generation that defined the respectful and accommodating community of Winthrop’s Jews.
Like many of the other smaller Mystic River Jewish communities, the shul was the heart of the community. It was the kind of place where one could stand outside of shul saying “gut Shabbes” or “gut Yontif” for upwards of thirty-minutes because everyone knew each other.
Winthrop was a lively immigrant community, attracting people migrating from East Boston, the West End and the North End. As was often the case in close-knit immigrant neighborhoods, everyone helped each other and community members were like family.
Today, Tifereth Israel continues serve the Jewish community of Winthrop in a friendly, comfortable atmosphere. The synagogue has a Hebrew school and remains an active, vibrant community center for religious, spiritual and social events.