Ira Novoselsky stands in the shul’s sanctuary in 2015. / STEVEN A. ROSENBERG/JOURNAL STAFF

Novoselsky makes it his mission to find yahrzeit plaques’ families from former Revere shul

SHARE THIS STORY

HELP SUPPORT JEWISH JOURNAL

Novoselsky makes it his mission to find yahrzeit plaques’ families from former Revere shul

Ira Novoselsky stands in the shul’s sanctuary in 2015. / STEVEN A. ROSENBERG/JOURNAL STAFF

REVERE – Ira Novoselsky is on a mission.

Two hundred yahrzeit plaques, originally from the former Congregation Tifereth Israel in Revere, have been stored in the Veterans’ Home in Chelsea’s Jewish Chapel for nearly five years. Now, the veterans’ home is undergoing renovations, and the plaques need a place to go, ideally – in Novoselsky’s eyes – to the families of those named on them.

Founded in 1912 by Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, Congregation Tifereth Israel closed in 2015, a result of a thinning Jewish population as families moved to farther suburbs. Novoselsky was president of the shul at the corner of Shirley and Nahant avenues in 2017 when the building was demolished to make way for affordable housing. Before the shul came down, Novoselsky took it upon himself to ensure that the 412 yahrzeit plaques in the sanctuary were removed and given to the families of those named. He was initially successful, locating the relatives of about 200 plaques.

After this initial push, however, over 200 still remained. “I felt I had to do the right thing,” Novoselsky said. “I just didn’t want to see them destroyed … Families are excited to find out their relatives, somehow, are still being recognized.”

So he found a way to store them – at the Veterans’ Home in Chelsea’s Jewish Chapel.

Novoselsky, 76, is not one to let things slip through the cracks for lack of effort. He’s a man of many hats, from shul president to city councilman to former national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. He spent 27 years in the military.

When the building was purchased in 2018, Novoselsky requested veteran’s housing be built on the property. One of the early solutions for the unclaimed yahrzeit plaques was to relocate those of Jewish veterans killed in action to the lobby of the new building.

The names of Jewish veterans who died in action were memorialized on plaques in the former shul.

But not all plaques were so easily rehomed. Novoselsky had known for a while that the Veterans’ Home chapel was going to be rebuilt, so about a month ago, he reignited his efforts. He posted on the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston Facebook page and has gotten a good response.

“The people I’m hearing from are great-great-great-great-grand children to great-grandchildren to grandchildren to aunts and uncles,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
Novoselsky has sent about 80 plaques to former congregants or families of former congregants who have landed all over the country, from California, to Texas, to Florida, to Wisconsin.

Now, as the flow of people reaching out has ebbed a bit, Novoselsky is worried about getting the rest of the plaques out before the three-month deadline he has hanging over his head. Any remaining plaques will be either donated to another synagogue or to a genealogy organization.

David Margossian, who still lives in Revere, is one of the people who have received a plaque in the past few weeks. He grew up going to Tifereth Israel, and had family members in the congregation going back to the 1960s. He was bar mitzvahed there, and it was where he spent holidays growing up. When Margossian saw Novoselsky’s Facebook post, he reached out, and shortly after, received the plaques of three great-aunts and two great-uncles.

“It’s like a piece of history I didn’t know I lost,” he said. “They’ve always been there, and you’d see them, and they would light up on the anniversary of the death, or on Yom Kippur or the [other] holidays, but they didn’t really have a lot of meaning or connection. But now there is that connection.”

Meryl Siegel Smith is on the board of Temple B’Nai Shalom in Braintree, but she also grew up going to Tifereth Israel, and generations of her family went there before her. When she heard about Novoselsky’s project, she asked him to send her his list of names, so that she might be able to pass them along to her contacts.

Upon receiving the names, she was met with a shock: Her grandparents were on the list.

“The family has dwindled down,” she said. “[It was] extremely moving to see their names on that list … I don’t know who paid for those plaques. I have no idea. And there’s nobody left to ask.”

Siegel Smith received the plaques of her maternal grandparents this past spring.

For more information, email Novoselsky at ira_novoselsky@yahoo.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Jewish Journal is reader supported

Jewish Journal is reader supported