On November 15, 1909, 18 men met at the home of Louis Glichouse on Buxton Street and planted the seed of Congregation Sons of Israel. Charter members included Samuel Rossen, Louis Glichouse, Barney Rubin, Samuel Slotnick, Harris Abelovtich, Hyman Israelovitz, Louis Altshuler, Jacob Edelstein, Harris Goldberg, Louis Karelitz, Robert Cohen, Sam Gilman, Jacob Gorenstein, Abraham Kaplan and Abraham Perlman. The material assets of these men were small, but their hearts were big, their determination and courage were strong, and their vision far-sighted.
After the charter was given to the congregation by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on December 14, 1909, new members began to join at twenty-five cents a month in dues. With continued efforts to raise funds, land was purchased in 1912, and a contract was made with Samuel Goldberg to construct the synagogue for $6,500. Although Mr. Goldberg was not the lowest bidder, he was the only member of the congregation among the bidders and later became one of the presidents. When more money was needed to complete construction, the problem was solved by selling a corner of the land at Sanborn Street, delaying the installation of a steam boiler and shortening the length of the balconies in the interior. The latter proved to be a good idea as it permitted more light from the windows and a broader view of the artistic front of the building. Until the completion of the synagogue, services were held at the Red Men’s Hall on Foster Street, where the Peabody Hebrew School was first established. Rev. Nathanson was the teacher.
The High Holy Day services of 1913 were the first to be held in the synagogue, with Rev. Nathanson as the cantor. He was also the shochet (ritual slaughterer) for the congregation, charging five cents a chicken at the butcher’s and ten cents if he had to do this at a private home. When the synagogue was first constructed, the bimah (platform from which the Torah is read) was in the center of the sanctuary, with a walkway between the bimah and Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark), in the Orthodox manner. A large brass chandelier hung from the ceiling, with moveable chairs for the men and benches in the balcony for the women.
The first president of the congregation was Samuel Rossen, followed by Frank Hershenson, David Kirstein, Elihu Hershenson, Morris Isaacson, Samuel Goldberg, Allen S. Levy, Irving Sacks, Sidney Barosin, Hyman Sogoloff, Harvey Chandler, Bernie Horowitz and, as of 2009, Sumner Greenberg. After Rev. Nathanson, the first spiritual leader engaged by the congregation was the Rev. Maurice Ordman, who also served as the cantor, the shochet and mohel for the Jewish community. He was followed by rabbis Chaim Essrog, Irving Perlman, Samuel Langer, Arthur Oles and, from 1953 to 1962, Noah Goldstein.
In October 1939, the longtime dream of Jewish leaders in the city was realized with the dedication of the Hebrew Community Center on Washington Street, made possible by the work of David Kirstein, Max Kirstein, Max Korn, Manahan P. Stone, the Ladies Auxiliary of the Hebrew School and many others.
The first president was Samuel Rafey, who died before the building was dedicated. He was succeeded by Dr. Irving Winer. Other presidents were Elihu A. Hershenson, M. Irving Herbster, Bernard J. Alpers and David Remis. Rabbi Chaim Essrog was the center’s first executive director. The Hebrew school ran for many years with beloved teachers Morris and Hilda Shiffman. The building’s custodian, Jack “The Fig” Figueroa, was able to keep unruly boys in line by grabbing the offender in a headlock and rubbing his sandpaper-grade beard stubble on the boy’s tender cheek, often leaving tell-tale evidence of a misdeed.
The Hebrew Community Center closed in the 1970s and was replaced by a new institution in 1979. Youth groups that met there – the Louis D. Brandeis Chapter of AZA, a Young Judea girls’ group and Troop 97 (formerly Troop 7), a primarily Jewish Boy Scout troop – had already faded by the 1960s. The new North Shore Jewish Community Center, now known as the North Suburban Jewish Community Center, was relocated to West Peabody, where the Jewish population was now based.
Congregation Anshe Sfard was known as the Little Shul, perhaps due to its small size relative to Congregation Sons of Israel (the Big Shul) around the corner, or due to its location at 7 Littles Lane just off Peabody Square. In 1913, the shul was established by recent Russian immigrants who initially held services in rental space on Main Street. They then purchased a former house stable and moved in during the spring of 1916. Anshe Sfard was a “Russicher” shul whose congregants came primarily from Russia, whereas Congregation Sons of Israel was a “Littvisher” shul. Both had similar arks created by the same woodcarver, and both had balconies upstairs for the women.
Congregation Tifereth Israel was founded in 1922 by seven Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Constantinople. (The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, is the only other Sephardic synagogue north of New York.) The roots of Peabody’s Sephardic community began in 1911 with the arrival of Don and Rebecca Eskenas and Meyer and Regina Bevotar. The founding families also included the Pernitchi, Savy, Behar, Yonis, Gibeley, Hasday, Havian, Fermon and Erera families. For many years, Rabbi Dov Pikelny was Tifereth Israel’s spiritual leader.
After World War II, interest in Conservative and Reform Judaism increased.
In 1958, the Conservative Temple Ner Tamid was founded, with Leon Steiff as the first president. Services were conducted at the Cy Tenney Hall in West Peabody, the Anshe Sfard Synagogue and the Tifereth Israel Synagogue on Pierpont Street, as well as the auditorium at the Northshore Shopping Center. Finally, in May 1965, the temple dedicated its own edifice on Lowell Street with Rabbi Ralph DeKoven. Rabbi Abraham Morhaim served as spiritual leader for 29 years until 1996. Cantor Sam Pessaroff, who passed away in 2008, served the temple as cantor and teacher for over 30 years and was well known as a mohel in the greater Boston area and beyond.
Also in 1958, the Reform Temple Beth Shalom was established. Edward Hoffman was its first president, and Rabbi Richard Safran its first spiritual leader, followed by Rabbi Morris Kipper. Services were first conducted at the Cy Tenney Hall, then at the St. Vasilios Recreational Center on Tremont Street, and the Hebrew Community Center until the temple was built off of Lowell Street and dedicated in November 1965. Beth Shalom continued to grow, and as one of the few Reform temples in the area, attracted members from many surrounding communities. Temple Shalom recently merged with Temple Tifereth Israel of Malden and is now known as Tiferet Shalom.
Chabad Lubavitch of Peabody opened in 2003, and is now located on Lowell Street in West Peabody. The congregation is led by Rabbi Nechemia and Raizel Schusterman.
The City of Peabody was and is a true melting pot of many nationalities and cultures. Most immigrants settled there to work in the leather factories. Today it is home to five active Jewish congregations – the most of any community on the North Shore – as well as the Jewish assisted living facility Harriet and Ralph Kaplan Estates (formerly Aviv Centers for Living).
Editorial Note: With over a century of Jewish life to cover with limited time and pages, the authors tried to mention as many people, businesses and Jewish institutions past and present in order to capture the essence of our rich Jewish history. We realize, however, that although our intentions were to be inclusive, we may have left out some important elements of that history. Please forgive our lapses.
By M. Irving Herbster, Avrom Herbster, Irving Sacks, Paul Ordman and Alan Pierce