Temple Ohabei Shalom Celebrates 180 Years With Tree Planting

Members of the oldest Jewish congregation in Massachusetts are gearing up to celebrate their 180th anniversary last week with the donation of nine magnolia trees to the Salesian Boys & Girls Club.

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.

Eastie Farms Director Kannan Thiruvengadam (left) helps plant trees at the event.

To mark 180 years since the congregation’s founding, members are planting 18 trees in Eastie with the help of Tree Eastie, Speak for the Trees and the Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA).

Temple Ohabei Shalom will plant 9 more in the fall within the Harbor View area to commemorate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Each tree will represent a decade of the congregation’s existence.

The 18 trees is part of a wider effort led by Tree Eastie and Speak for the Trees to bring more street trees to Eastie. The two groups have 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.

“Speak for the Trees has been intimately engaged with Tree Eastie in their work, supporting its projects both with finances, expertise, and technology,” said Speak for the Trees Executive Director David Meshoulam. “The Delta Air Lines grant and the Ohabei Shalom partnership, for example, are two projects that we are bringing to East Boston in partnership with Tree Eastie.”

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 of the Temple worked with Tree Eastie, Speak for the Trees and HVNA to look for alternative sites around the cemetery.

The first site chosen to plant the first nine trees was on the Wordsworth Street side of the cemetery where the Salesians Boys and Girls Club rear entrance is.

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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