CHELSEA – The palatial, Romanesque sanctuary of Chelsea’s storied Walnut Street Shul is just as Harold Mindel remembers it back when he chanted the haftarah in 1942.
“The people there kept it in great condition – it’s just like the one we had when I was bar mitzvahed. People come from all over to see the place – it’s beautiful,” said Mindel, who has served on the synagogue’s board for many years.
On July 27, in honor of his 90th birthday 77 years later, Mindel will once again stand atop Walnut Street’s ornate, mahogany bimah to chant the haftarah before family and friends. He does this every year on his birthday in different synagogue chapels, but this will mark the first time since his original bar mitzvah that he has led a service in the main sanctuary of Walnut Street.
“This is the big one. I’m gonna lead the group, I’m going to do the haftarah, the whole ball of wax – I think it’s pretty good for a person who just turned 90,” said Mindel, who in his youth studied up to four times a week with Avigdor Miller, a celebrated Orthodox rabbi.
Mindel, who now lives in Lynn, was born in Chelsea in 1929 to Hyman and Esther Mindel, Latvian and Polish immigrants. Mindel believes that his Chelsea childhood prepared him to take on the world.
“Growing up in Chelsea was an adventure,” he said. “If you grew up in Chelsea, you could grow up anywhere – you were ready for any given thing. The loyalty to that city is fantastic. During the Depression, when I was a little kid, nobody had any money, however as long as you had loving parents, good food in the refrigerator, and plenty of friends, you didn’t need anything else.”
Mindel attended Suffolk University, then received his master’s degree in education from Boston University, and then his law degree from Suffolk, and worked as a senior representative for Metro Credit Union for 38 years.
In 1973, he moved to Swampscott and became active in the North Shore’s Jewish community. He joined Congregation Ahabat Sholom in Lynn, where he served on the board, and eventually became president, and continued on as treasurer for many years. He guided the congregation through transitionary times in the 1990s as American-born congregants left for other towns, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived. Though the original Ahabat Sholom building has been sold to Chabad of the North Shore (where Mindel also attends), services are still held in the chapel of Temple Sinai in Marblehead.
Mindel also has served on the Jewish Family and Children’s Services North Shore Advisory Board. For his many efforts on behalf of the local Jewish community, he was awarded a JFS Community Hero Service Award in 2007.
“I really owe it to my father – it’s in honor of my father, who taught me the haftarah,” said Mindel about his upcoming celebration.