The sanctuary at Congregation Sons of Israel in Peabody.

Peabody shul to celebrate 115 years of worship and community

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Peabody shul to celebrate 115 years of worship and community

The sanctuary at Congregation Sons of Israel in Peabody.

Growing up, Alan Pierce spent many Shabbat mornings at Congregation Sons of Israel in Peabody.

He remembers watching older Orthodox men and women – European Jews who had come to America for a better life – in separate sections. As he listened to the chanting of Hebrew around him, Pierce recalled being mesmerized by the sanctuary’s ornate bimah and trompe-l’oeil paintings, a style where objects are depicted with photographically realistic detail.

“It was a very old, traditional shul,” said Pierce, who grew up in South Peabody and became a Bar Mitzvah at Sons of Israel in 1961. “Even though at the time I would look at my watch to see when the service was going to be over, I wish I could go back and reclaim those days.”

Pierce, who now lives in Beverly, has spent years documenting the history of the shul that’s served as a center of Jewish life for four generations of his family. And now, he’s part of a group planning to celebrate Sons of Israel at a June 23 gala to mark the congregation’s 115th year.

The gala – which will be held at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare’s Peabody campus – will include hors d’oeuvres, dinner, music, a speaking program, and a montage of photos spanning the decades from Sons of Israel. There also will be video greetings, including a message from U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia, whose great-grandfather was an early member of the shul.

The event also will “honor those who have come before us and contributed to the history of the synagogue,” said Cantor Seth Landau, spiritual leader of Congregation Sons of Israel, which was founded in 1909 by Lithuanian and Russian immigrants who settled in Peabody to work in the leather tanning industry.

“We’re excited that the event will bring people together,” said Landau. “What we’re really celebrating is the congregation’s generations – from early times to the present. We’re bridging between our past and our future and showing everyone that they are a critical component of our community.”

The choir of Congregation Sons of Israel High Holy Days 1926. (from left): David Lecker, Benjamin Erlich, Julius Weisman, Samuel Lecker, Rev. Maurice Ordman, Hyman Millstein, Morris Isaacson, Charles Erlich, Sidney Althshuler, and Nathan Singer.

In 1912, Sons of Israel moved to its current location in downtown Peabody. For about 60 years, it had an active congregation, a Hebrew school, a sisterhood, and a men’s club. The 1970s were a difficult time for the shul because of several factors, including the Jewish population’s shift to West Peabody, an aging congregation, and an increase in area synagogues, which led Sons of Israel to shutter its Hebrew school.

But the synagogue persevered. Over the years, the congregation renovated parts of the building, and began to hold monthly Friday night services.

Today, the congregation has 135 member families, from Peabody and surrounding communities including Beverly, Swampscott, Salem, Lynnfield, Wakefield, and Andover, said Landau. Some members live out of state, he said, but still choose to support Sons of Israel.

Synagogue president Paul Ordman of Andover has a strong tie to the shul: His grandfather, Maurice Ordman, was the first spiritual leader at Sons of Israel.

“My heart is in this synagogue,” said Ordman. “We were excited to plan this event. It will be nice to have people who have long been involved come back for the celebration.”

For as long as she can remember, Barbara Sigel of Peabody has been connected to Sons of Israel. Her grandfather was a member, and her mother was on the board of directors. Sigel attended the shul’s Hebrew school, junior congregation, and eventually, took over her mother’s board seat.

 

Susan Raffer, Sheila Remis, Moishe Shiffman, David Kirstein, Max Korn, Rabbi Dr. Noan Goldstein, Dan Woloshen, and Edward Shapiro in 1958.

In the early 2000s, Sigel said, she was the first woman to carry a Torah at Sons of Israel during a Rosh Hashanah service. Nearly two decades later, in early 2018, she was among a group of five women who had an adult Bat Mitzvah at the shul.

“It was one of the happiest days of my life,” she recalled. “It was just so, so meaningful.”

Sigel will be one of the speakers at the upcoming gala. She said she’s proud that the synagogue’s story is intertwined with her own.
“It’s been important to me to carry on the traditions from the olden days, and to be part of the growth and evolution of the synagogue,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to be involved, that I’m part of all of this.”

Rosalyn Abrams agreed. A past president of Congregation Sons of Israel, she’s on the gala planning committee and is also working on the event tribute book. In addition to her own leadership, her father, Irving Bacherman – who recently passed away at the age of 95 – served on the shul’s board of directors.

“This is all just awesome,” said Abrams, who lives in Haverhill. “I’m so glad we can continue the legacy of so many people who are no longer with us, including my dad. To see our planning come to fruition is exciting.”

Last year, the synagogue began to partner with Chelsea Jewish Lifecare to offer services and events on its Peabody campus, which also houses the North Suburban Jewish Community Center. All programming is open to Sons of Israel congregants, Chelsea Jewish Lifecare residents, and the broader Jewish community.

Landau said Sons of Israel – which is facing rising costs to maintain and insure its aging building – is seeking a long-term collaboration with Chelsea Jewish Lifecare to create a central, multigenerational Jewish space in Peabody.

“Times have changed,” said Landau. “The generations are different, technology is different, everything is different. This is a critical time to come together. We are still here – and we’re not going anywhere. We want to grow and expand, and we’re excited to have a plan to move forward.”

The 115th Anniversary Gala of Congregation Sons of Israel will be held from 4-8 p.m. June 23 at the Peabody location of Chelsea Jewish Lifecare, 240 Lynnfield St. For tickets, contact peabodycsi.org@comcast.net.

One Response

  1. Paul Ordman is the best president this temple has ever had. He is an incredible human being. He’s smart, kind, courteous, and caring. I wish he was my dad.
    Bob Gretto

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