OCTOBER 18, 2018 – Ed Medros, a native of Chelsea and a retired quality supplier engineer for General Electric medical products, is the president of Chelsea’s Walnut Street Synagogue. He married Ruth Bronstein in 1971, and the couple live in Portsmouth, N.H. They have two sons, Adam and Jonathan, and five grandchildren.
Could you tell us about your upbringing and where you grew up?
I was born and brought up in Chelsea. After World War II, my mother, father, and I initially lived in Veterans Park. This “park” is now the parking lot under the bridge for the Massachusetts IT building in Chelsea. After about five years, we moved to my grandparents’ house, a double-decker, on Elm Street – the last house on the street and right around the corner from the freight yards. I graduated from Williams School and Chelsea High, Class of ’63. I also attended the Hebrew school and had my bar mitzvah at the Elm Street Synagogue. I was an American Jew, as my grandfather called me, an American Chewbacca.
When did you first become interested in Judaism, and how did it influence you during your early years?
It was always in my life as my grandparents were Orthodox. Attending synagogue was a must, and I would attend Friday night and Saturday services. It was a profound and educating experience listening to tales from my grandparents about persecution in Russia with no freedoms. I realized later what this must have been like for them and others.
After my grandparents passed away, Judaism was still there as part of my life but not as much as in the past. I would celebrate the High Holidays and other holidays, and occasionally Shabbos with my parents. When the Elm Street Synagogue was destroyed by the Chelsea Fire of ’73, my parents followed Rabbi Cywiak to the Walnut Street Synagogue. This was also an interesting time for my father as he was very active in the Knights of Pythias, a philanthropic organization.
How did you meet your wife, Ruth?
We met in Sydney, Australia, while I was on R & R while serving in Vietnam from 1968-70. Ruth came to the States for a cousin’s wedding, we met again … I married Ruth Bronstein in 1971 in New York City, and here we are 48 years later.
You’ve volunteered at Jewish groups over the years. What do you get out of volunteering?
Volunteering allows me to give back to the community, and to help those in need.
You’re the president of the Walnut Street Synagogue. When did you first start attending the synagogue, and how has it influenced your life?
I started attending the Walnut Street Synagogue after the Elm Street Synagogue [was destroyed in 1973] and Rabbi Cywiak became the rabbi there. I did not realize the importance of the Walnut Street Synagogue to the city of Chelsea, and to the Jews of Chelsea, until I became more active in synagogue affairs and events. There was a magic being around guys like Herby Kupersmith, Murray Band, Morris Karll, and others too numerous to list. Their dynamics were infectious. It was then that I decided to become more active in the shul. It was also a time of a changing landscape in Chelsea; synagogues were closing and Jews were moving out to Peabody, Swampscott, Marblehead, Brookline, Sharon, and other cities.
The synagogue is one of the more ornate temples in Massachusetts. What are your thoughts when you sit in the sanctuary?
I am amazed that this structure has withstood time – yes, there are a few leaks, peeling paint, squeaky floors, it’s not handicapped accessible, but these pale when you are sitting in the main sanctuary, sitting in front of a 37½-foot ark built by Sam Katz, under an amazing painted ceiling, an original hanging chandelier, and on pews that are designed for comfort.
Sitting there, I can close my eyes and imagine what it must have been like in 1909 when the shul opened and the majority of conversation was in Yiddish, Hebrew, and broken English, and what those brave men and women sacrificed to start a new life in America and in their own house of worship. Also, when you have a building on the National Register of Historic Places [added in 1993], you realize the importance of the legacy entrusted to you and all Jews, not only in Chelsea but everywhere.
As synagogue president, what are your goals for the shul? Also, why did you want to lead the congregation?
Our goals are: to continue to hold Shabbat services, High Holiday services, and other holiday events such as Purim, Chanukah parties, and concerts; to grow membership; make the shul handicap accessible; be a good neighbor; promote our museum of historical artifacts, and to become relevant again.
Around 2015, the board of directors decided they wanted to go in a new direction. They asked me to become president. I was honored that they had faith in me, and I did not hesitate to accept the position. With the support of all, we embarked on a new beginning just like the original founders and others that came before me. It is an honor that they entrusted me with this.
So many Jews who were raised in Chelsea became successful. Were there common morals and values among Jewish families that contributed to people’s success?
Our grandparents and parents instilled in their children pride in who they were, where they came from, and that hard work, education, and respect for all would result in a full life – one that was rich and fulfilling. Remember, we were all in the same boat – poor. So we quickly learned the life skills that have carried us throughout our lives in work and family. This hardened us and prepared us for life afterwards. And many of these friendships still exist today.
What motivates you to make a difference in other people’s lives?
I’ve been blessed with a great wife, who keeps me in check, two wonderful sons, and five grandchildren. It is a mitzvah to give rather than to receive. To help those who cannot help themselves, to effect change in other people’s lives – this is rewarding to me.
How important is Judaism in your life, and what do you like most about the religion?
Judaism is more important to me now than ever before, because I am entrusted with leading the Walnut Street Synagogue. I have been handed an opportunity to make a difference. I am proud of my heritage, my upbringing, and the influence and mentoring of the many people who have made me who I am today.
What’s the future of Jewish life in Chelsea?
With all the new construction going on in Chelsea, it is an exciting time. Will there ever be 21 synagogues in Chelsea again? No. Will the Jewish population in Chelsea ever approach the 21,000 mark like in the early 30s and 40s? No.
But we can become relevant again with the help of all.