WORCESTER, U.S. city in Massachusetts, 40 mi. (64 km.) W. of Boston. Its population was 172,648 (2000 census), with an estimated Jewish population of 10,000 in the city and surrounding area, which includes such communities as Westborough, Northborough, Shrewsbury, Fitchburg, and Leominster.
The earliest settlement of Jews in the Worcester area occurred during the American Revolution when the British occupied *Newport, R.I., and several Jewish families, headed by Aaron *Lopez, a wealthy shipping merchant, left that city to live for the duration of the war in Leicester, five miles from Worcester. After the war the Leicester community dissolved when the Jewish families returned to Newport. Worcester had no permanent Jewish settlement until after the Civil War, when the *Straus and Gross families established stores in the city. In 1870 Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe began to come to Worcester in larger numbers.
The first congregation, Sons of Israel, was established in 1877, and a burial society was formed the same year. As the Jewish population grew, congregations – all located on the East Side – multiplied to total 13. With the shift of the Jewish population to the West Side of the city, most of them closed. Sons of Jacob and Shaarai Torah (1904), which was merged with Sons of Abraham (1887), have survived.
In 1968, three Orthodox congregations remained on the East Side – Sons of Jacob; Sons of Zion, a small congregation; and Shaarai Torah – Sons of Abraham, at the synagogue erected in 1906. A West Side branch of Shaarai Torah – Sons of Abraham was established in 1959. Rabbi Joseph Gold, who came to the congregation in 1954, served both branches. Earlier rabbis included Meyer Greenberg (1947–54) and Gershon Appel (1943–47), who pursued his Ph.D. at Harvard and went on to congregations in Seattle and New York before becoming a professor of philosophy at Stern College. In addition to Shaarai Torah – Sons of Abraham, there were in 1968 five other congregations on the West Side.
Temple Emanuel (Reform), established in 1921, moved to permanent quarters in 1923. In 1949 it erected a large synagogue which was considerably expanded in 1961. The congregation grew rapidly to become the Jewish community's largest, with a membership of over 1,300 families. Maurice M. Mazure, the first rabbi (1923–26), was followed by Julius Gordon (1926–29), Levi A. Olan (1929–48; d. 1984), and afterwards by Joseph Klein and Jordan Milstein. Hugo Chaim *Adler, who achieved fame as a composer of synagogue music, was cantor of Temple Emanuel from 1939 until his death in 1955.
Congregation Beth Israel (Conservative), formed in 1924, built a house of worship in 1939, and in 1959 erected a larger synagogue. Its rabbis included Herbert Ribner (1948–55), Abraham Kazis, who began in 1955, and was followed by Joel Pitkowsky.
Congregation Beth Judah (Orthodox), founded in 1948, was headed in 1968 by Rabbi Reuven Fischer. Congregation Tifereth Israel (Orthodox), established in 1959, was led in 1968 by Rabbi Herschel Fogelman. It was associated with the Chabad *Lubavitch movement. Temple Sinai (Reform) was established in 1957; its rabbi (1970) was John J. Rosenblatt. In 2005 Seth Bernstein was the rabbi.
Congregations in Westborough include Beth Tikvah, whose rabbi was Fred Benjamin, Bnai Shalom, whose rabbi was Laurence Milder, and Chabad, whose rabbi was Micoel Green.
In addition to the congregational school, the Ivriah School, a community talmud torah supported by the Worcester Jewish Federation was formed in 1927 by combining the Hebrew Free School (established 1905) with the existing Orthodox congregational schools. It ceased to exist in the 1980s, but in the early 21st century there were two day schools, the New Jewish Academy established in 2005 (the successor to the Solomon Schechter Day School), a community transdenominational school which recognizes and respects all forms of Jewish practice, and the Yeshiva, the Chabad-Lubavitch day school.
Community Organizations and Leadership
In 1920 a number of existing charitable organizations were combined to form the United Jewish Charities, later the Jewish Social Service Agency, and in 1968 called the Jewish Family Service. The Jewish Community Council, formed in 1936, and the Jewish Welfare Fund, established in 1939, were merged in 1947 to form the Worcester Jewish Federation. The Jewish Community Center, established in 1950, used the old Temple Emanuel building until its new structure was built in 1966. The Jewish Home for the Aged, founded in 1915, at first served also as an orphanage but by 1968 was restricted to caring for the aged and infirm.
In the early years of the community Jews were mainly peddlers and small-scale shopkeepers. By the 1960s they were engaged in every branch of industry and commerce and in all professions. Among Jews in public office was Joseph C. Casdin, a member of the City Council from 1956, who served his fourth term as mayor in 1968. Past City Council members include Louis Glixman, Elias Pofcher, and Israel Katz. Other officials include Elton Yasuna, who served on the School Committee, and Edward Landau, elected to the committee in 1967; Archibald M. Hillman (d. 1959), assistant city solicitor and, later, city solicitor; Wilfred B. Feiga, assistant clerk of Superior Court (1922–65) and president of the Free Public Library (1932; 1966); Judge Jacob Asher (d. 1956), special justice of the Central District Court; and Judge Joseph Goldberg, appointed to the Central District Court in 1953. There was an additional Jewish mayor in Worcester, Jordan Levy. First elected to the City Council in 1978, he was mayor for eight years.
The playwright S.N. *Behrman has described some of the colorful personalities in the Jewish community during his youth in his partly fictional and partly autobiographical Worcester Account (1954). A weekly newspaper, the Jewish Civic Leader, served the community from 1923.
The Worcester Jewish Federation was re-named the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts in 1997 to more accurately reflect the area that the Federation serves: not just the city of Worcester, but all of Worcester county, including the Westborough area (which includes Westborough, Northborough and Shrewsbury). The Westborough area is the home to a JCC, a Conservative congregation, Beth Tikvah, and a Reform Temple, Bnai Shalom. Chabad has a presence there as well.
Clark University is located in Worcester. It has a distinguished Judaic Studies program staffed by, inter alia, Everett Fox, who wrote an important translation of the Torah based on the principles of the Buber-Rosenzweig translation of the early 20th century, and Debórah Dwork, who headed its graduate program in Holocaust Studies, the first of its kind in the United States. Clark boasts that it was the only university to invite Sigmund Freud to lecture during an American visit. Neighboring Holy Cross University has an annual lecture on the Holocaust and programs in Jewish-Catholic relations.
Mopsik, in: JSOS, 7 (1945), 41–62.
[Howard Borer (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.