Temple Ohabei Shalom to Celebrate 180 Years

Members of the oldest Jewish congregation in Massachusetts are gearing up to celebrate their 180th anniversary this year and have some special plans in store for East Boston.

The Temple Ohabei Shalom congregation, which was founded in 1842, built its first synagogue in Brookline in 1844 and also established the Temple Ohabei Shalom Cemetery on Woodsworth Street in Eastie the same year with the support of the Boston City Council.

To mark 180 years since the congregation’s founding, members are planning to plant 18 trees in Eastie with the help of Tree Eastie. Each tree will represent a decade of the congregation’s existence.

At a Harbor View Neighborhood Association meeting Monday night, board member Matt Barison said because the cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places the trees can not be planted inside the gates of the cemetery but members are working with Tree Eastie to look for alternative sites around the cemetery.

“The trees cannot be planted in the cemetery itself,” said Barison. “So some folks from the  congregation and Tree Eastie did a walk around in the immediate vicinity and identified some sites where those trees could be planted. One of the sites is on the Wordsworth Street side of the cemetery where the Salesians Boys and Girls Club rear entrance is. There’s a big empty landscaped area and discussions are ongoing with the leadership of the Boys and Girls Club. So stay tuned for more information on that event, but we certainly welcome the congregation’s desire to plant 18 new trees in our neighborhood.”

Tree Eastie has been working for a few years now to increase the neighborhood’s tree canopy by working with the city and other stakeholders. The goal is to get hundreds of new trees planted throughout the neighborhood.

For over a decade the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts (JCAM) Charitable Foundation has been raising money and restoring the historic Ohabei Shalom Chapel on Wordsworth Street with several projects in the works.

Built in 1903 the Ohabei Shalom Chapel served as a mortuary chapel for the adjacent Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery was established in 1844, and was the first Jewish Cemetery in the state that served Boston and Mystic Valley’s Jewish population.

According to plans the JCAM will complete a historic restoration of not only the chapel to create the neighborhood’s first immigration center but also the cemetery’s perimeter.

JCAM’s Director of Development Lisa Berenson recently reported that the JCAM completely restored the exits to the cemetery and completely renovated the exterior of the chapel through funds from the Mass Historical Commission, private foundations and donations.

JCAM’s latest project is the fence at the back of the cemetery that borders Byron Street. For decades the chain link fence has rusted and has been an eyesore. The retaining wall on Byron Street also needs work to fix years of decay. JCAM has been writing grants and has been able to get some funding. These funds will be used for wall restoration and a replacement fence at the back of the cemetery.

The JCAM also received funds from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding last year. Under Historic Preservation $40,000 went towards helping restore the wall on Byron Street that Berenson said was crumbling.

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