NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – Shortly before 9 on Tuesday morning, they lugged a lectern out on to Shirley Avenue in Revere and began to say goodbye to the last remnant of what was once one of the most thriving Jewish communities in Greater Boston.
About 50 people crowded across the street from the grand Congregation Tifereth Israel, which had served as the main synagogue to Revere Jews since 1912, when it was opened by Eastern European Jews who had put down roots near Revere Beach. For most of the last century, the main sanctuary – graced with an ornate wooden ark, a coffered ceiling, a women’s balcony, and murals of the 12 tribes painted on the walls – had welcomed brides and grooms, and bar and bat mitzvah kids, and men and women who opened their hearts to God and prayed for a better life for their families.
But this week nearly all of those Jews had moved on, and the old shul – which sat along a street where Jews opened kosher butcher shops, bakeries, pharmacies and shoe stores – waited to be demolished. It had last been used in 2014, when about 15 families showed up for Yom Kippur. But since then, its roof had nearly blown off, and its heater had stopped functioning.
Ira Novoselsky, the shul’s president and a Revere city councilor, said that congregants decided to sell the property to Rising Communities, a nonprofit, that plans to build 30 one-bedroom units for area veterans. That five-story building is slated to open in about 18 months, marking the first major construction on Shirley Ave since the 1960s. Novoselsky said the proceeds of the sale, $330,000, would be used to maintain the shul’s two cemeteries in Everett.
Over the last two years, former congregants have come from as far away as Israel to retrieve siddurs that were given to the shul by their parents and grandparents, and yahrzeit plaques.
The main ark was taken apart and brought to Wayland where it was reassembled at Temple Shir Tikva; pews were trucked away to shuls in Maine, NY, and even sent to South America; chandeliers and sconces were brought to the Walnut Street Shul in Chelsea; the shul’s last Torah was kept by Novoselsky’s son, who teaches bar mitzvah students.
“This brings us to today, where we say shalom,” said Novoselsky, shortly before he moved away from the lectern and turned toward the old shul. Minutes later, a bulldozer’s arm reached the top of the shul’s roof and tore into the former house of prayer. Four hours later, the building was no longer and workers began to sweep up the debris.