Members of the YMHA-Hecht House Alumni Association reunion committee.

Hundreds reminisce at 44th reunion of Boston’s Jewish community



Hundreds reminisce at 44th reunion of Boston’s Jewish community

Members of the YMHA-Hecht House Alumni Association reunion committee.
Members of the YMHA-Hecht House Alumni Association reunion committee.

JULY 5, 2018, BOSTON – Nearly 400 people who grew up during the “Golden Age” of Boston’s Jewish community in the Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan neighborhoods gathered at the Boston Marriott Quincy on June 23 for the 44th Anniversary Reunion of the YMHA-Hecht House Alumni Association.

Most attendees spent their childhoods and teen years along a 5-mile stretch of Blue Hill Avenue and scores of side streets with familiar names like Norfolk, Hazleton, Morton, and Woodrow. In its heyday, there were some 75,000 Jews in the area, mostly children of Eastern European immigrants. By the late 1970s, the area’s Jewish population dropped to under 1,000.

Jim Slovin of Foxborough, reunion ad book chair who attended the first event in 1973, beamed as old friends filled the ballroom. “This might be the only group of its kind that’s held together by memories and friendships formed 60 years ago,” he said. According to Slovin, reunions are held every four or five years, and this year guests came from at least six states, including Florida and California.

The Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) building was on Seaver Street (corner of Humboldt Avenue) in Roxbury and the Hecht House was on American Legion Highway in Dorchester. Located on opposite sides of Franklin Park, they served as social hubs for the Jewish community of the 1950s and ’60s. They were the Jewish Community Centers of that era.

David Scheuer and Jim Slovin at the YMHA-Hecht House reunion.

Families mostly lived in wooden triple-deckers and aging Victorians clustered around Franklin Park, where thousands regularly took walks, visited the zoo, enjoyed the rose garden, or just schmoozed on the long green benches near the main entrance. Another popular gathering place for this crowd was a few miles up Blue Hill Avenue along “the wall” at Franklin Field, especially during the High Holidays.

Retired lawyer Sumner Gillette, attending his first reunion, said, “If I just see one person I haven’t seen in many years, it’s worth coming. I love the nostalgia.”

Brothers Peter and Paul Waitze, who as kids delivered produce from their father’s fruit store, The Fruit Bowl, on Blue Hill Avenue, were excited to attend. Peter, a meat broker, traveled from Philadelphia. He first met his wife Lois when they were teenagers at a party on Norfolk Street. They married in 1962. “We’re still married and in love,” they said together.

Marty Garber, who flew in from Manhattan Beach, Calif., came “this close” to being recruited by the Chicago Cubs after seven years in the minor leagues. A shoulder injury derailed that plan around 1959. But he holds the all-time record of 47 points in 1953 for the Roxbury Memorial High basketball team.

Irwin Frankel, of Chestnut Hill, was a Marine captain during the Vietnam War, and later worked as a Procter & Gamble salesman. He grew up on Columbia Road and attended Boston Tech. “Your roots are who you grew up with,” he observed. “It’s great to relive your life by seeing faces of people you grew up with.”

Jack Bennett lived near Egleston Square, attending Roosevelt Junior High and English High. “There weren’t many Jewish kids in my neighborhood so I looked forward to going to three Jewish hangouts: the YMHA, Hecht House, and the G & G Deli,” he recalled. At one of those, he met his wife, Sheila. The couple has been married for 54 years.

“This event represents the bond I shared for 60 years with these friends,” Bennett said. “It was our own shtetl. We had nothing; we had everything.”

22 Responses

  1. I was Paula Opin and grew up on Hallowell Street In Mattapan. I met my husband, Larry Goldberg, at USY at Temple Shalom in Milton. We’d love to be inluded in communications.

  2. I grew up in Mattapan and went to school at the Pauline Agassi Shaw, Solomon Lewenberg, and Roxbury Memorial HS.

    In 1974 I moved to California where I still reside.

    To keep active, I play on a Senior Softball Team, and proud to say we are one of top 80 year old teams in the country.

    In addition, I also play tennis and pickle ball three times a week.

    I still keep in touch with several of my boyhood friends, the majority of who now reside in Florida.

    1. Hi there,
      When did you attend Solomon Lewenberg? Did you happen to know a boy named Murray Burroughs of Dorchester?
      I am his niece

  3. My memories of the YMHA go back well over 70 Years. Charlie Glovin, head of the gymn was as close to a father as anyone. My summers with him at Camp Kingswood in Bridgeton ME were special It was a greAt area and place to grow up.Marty Garber my friend from Kindergarten to graduation at RMHS was special..unfortunately he passed a few months ago.

  4. Addendum…I am pleased to say that my mother…Ada Caswell worked at the Jewish Journal for many years in the 1950’s. She loved working there and she would send a subscription to us wherever we lived….Oakland, San Diego, Laramie, Wyoming…where the Journal was used by my wife..Paula Spitz Gordon Caswell, as a teaching tool to non Jewish classes at a local church. The Journal was with us in Rochester, NY. and eventually Ft. Lauderdale,
    Florida. We always enjoyed getting it. Sometimes it was the only Jewish need we had. Thanks.

    1. Hello Burt, Just clicked on this link as I was thinking of ‘the wall’ at Franklin Field at the high holidays. My sister is Debbie Zalvan Bretner. We lived on Wales St directly across the street from the Spitz’s. Debbie and Paula were best of friends. Happy New Year.
      Bob Zalvan

  5. I grew up in Dorchester on Calender street and later moved to Fairmount street. I went to school at the Pauline Agassi Shaw, Solomon Lewenberg, and Boston English HS. Presently living in South Carolina and I would be interested in knowing about any reunion that may be planned in the future after the China virus is to bed.

  6. Hi I’m Jason Maltz grew up in Mattapan Almont appartments Blue Hill Ave along with my two brothers Bob and Stan. Fond summers at camp Chebacco, My uncle Phil ran the sports dept at the Hecht House, Fond memories there also, Married Brenda Schneiderman of Milton and happily married still after 57 years. Charles Logue School, Solly and RMHS 1956. Made contact with old friend of mine Marv Tobins in Florida . Like all of you best grandchildren ,best doctors, best old friends.

  7. I grew up at 787 Morton on the second floor My paternal grandparents from Russia were on the first floor. So I was blessed to grow up on two floors. And of course there was a third. Pauline Shaw. Hecht House Etc. Just finding out this reunion. Would like to fhear about the next one.

  8. jack bennet lived in the same apt building as me his father played the trombone his sister was my babysitter, we played in the back lot my older bro name is arnie.

  9. My first four years, my family lived on Athelwold Street in Dorchester, near Codman Square, and I spent the first half year of kindergarten at the Florence Nightingale School, which still had a victory garden out front in 1955. Then we moved to Manchester Street in Lower Mills, and I went to the Charles Taylor School on Morton Street through the sixth grade. We belonged to congregation Beth Hillel on Morton Street, where I went to the Dorchester-Mattapan Hebrew School (four afternoons a week after public school, and Sunday mornings) for six years, including the first two years I was at Latin School. I was a member of the George Gershwin chapter of AZA, and we participated in social, athletic, and religious events with kids in other chapters of AZA and BBG all around the Boston area, even in such exotic (to us) places as Chelsea and Belmont.

    Somewhere along the second year I was in college, the Jewish community in Dorchester and Mattapan pretty much picked up and moved away, mostly to the South Shore. My folks continued to live in Lower Mills until 2002, however.

  10. Sheldon liberman lived at 38 Jones ave third floor, hung at the corner of bluehill ave and Woodrow ave going to be 83 this oct 13th what amazing roots to have , nothing could’ve been better.

  11. I lived on Lawrence Avenue for a short time, about 4 years. My parents, little brother and I moved to Cunningham Street, Roxbury, and I, subsequently went to the Benedict Fenwick Elementary School, Solomon Lewenberg and J.E. Burke H.S. in Dorchester. graduating in 1961. I married a Dorchester boy, Eddie Foster, in 1972, however, he died in 1999. I’ve since married a NYer, Irwin Chalfin who just recently, on November 12 died. Yes, it’s been tough, here in Boynton Beach, mostly for those reasons, but I’ve persevered. I’d love to hear from any and/or all of you. Because I was a Dorchester girl, and Eddie was DEFINITELY one of our own, please contact me. I’m so glad that the organization is still viable. I’m sorry I missed the reunion; however, please G-D I will attend the next one.

    Do we have any chapters in Boynton Beach, etc.?

  12. I lived on Esmond St, Shandon Rd (Franklin Hill Ave project), and then Selden St -just opposite West Selden. Went to the Robert Treat Paine, Solomon Lewenberg, and Jeremiah Burke, class of ‘64. Married in 1967 and lived in Hyde Park. Moved to Cape Cod year round for over 50 years. Went to Camp Kingswood. My father worked at Blacker Brothers fruit, right across from the Morton Theater. He was a part of the Enrols club but doubt any members are still around. He would have been 100 this year. Oh my – how did all this time pass so quickly?

  13. We have been a member of the hect house association for many years. But my membership card is from hunger. Sharen kaufman and Leonard kaufman
    We now live in Norfolk Massachusetts. 113 wildwood rd.

  14. I grew up on blue hill ave at the corner of Norfolk st. Went to Charles logue elementray, Beth Hillel for Hebrew school. My dad owned a photography studio on blue hill ave. After moving about, i now live in Los Angeles. It was a different world in the late 50s and early 60s and Jewish life was far more cloistered. Great community in Mattapan, until it wasn’t.

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