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Looking Back 100 Years

Norwood's first Jewish residents, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Cushing, moved into town in 1899.  Six years later, in 1905, additional Jewish families began to settle in Norwood.  Some of them purchased a Torah scroll in time for the 1907 High Holidays.  They celebrated a Siyum Torah in Conger Hall, at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Washington Street.  This event, also attended by out-of-town guests, raised about
$180 for the fledgling congregation of about seventeen families.
      Benjamin Cushing in later years (photo courtesy of Judi Hershman)         Conger Building (photo courtesy of Norwood Historical Society)
Benjamin Cushing in later years                                                            Conger  Building
(photo courtesy of Judi Hershman)                                 (photo courtesy of Norwod Historical Society)

They organized themselves as the Norwood Hebrew Congregation and
applied for a charter from the state. Granted on April 6, 1908, our
congregation’s official “date of birth,” the charter listed the following
individuals as members of the newly organized corporation:

Alan Gainsberg    Benjamin Cushing    Charles Metcalf
David Silverman    Lion Cushing    Louis Walter
Leonard Goldberg    Moris Hoffman    Nathan Goldberg
Nathan Shepard    Louis Aster    Marcus Wygon
Alec Yompolski    Harry Grossman    Osher Glosberg
Alic Cushing    Louis Fliegelman

Following these names, the charter added, “and others, their associates
and successors.” Successors. So here -- if we wish to see it -- we find
reference to ourselves, as well.


The Norwood Hebrew Congregation continued to grow. Lacking a permanent
location, our members continued to meet in various public buildings in
Norwood, including Conger Hall, the Odd Fellows Building, and Elks Hall.
We enjoyed the goodwill and hospitality of our non-Jewish neighbors in
 the town.
Elks Hall Early street scene, Norwood
Elk's Hall (later the Norwood Press Club)                                                      Early street scene, Norwood
           (photo courtesy of Norwod Historical Society)                             (photo courtesy of Norwod Historical Society)

The Jewish Women's Club, begun in 1915, opened a Sunday School in September 1917 with the help of the Hon. Elihu D. Stone.  The school was soon expanded to a daily Hebrew School.  Finding consistent meeting space was a challenge, with the Sunday School initially meeting in a room generously made available by the Civic Association.  When the school soon expanded into a five-day Hebrew School, finding available meeting space on weekdays proved difficult.  At first, the school met without charge at the civic center's Model House.   But that space was too small to be shared by two organizations.  The Hebrew School subsequently rented a room on Washington Street and shortly afterwards, on Chapel Street.  It was becoming apparent that we needed a permanent home for our school.

Norwood's residences, schools, and retail businesses were growing.  Louis Orent, active member of the Jewish congregation, opened the original Orent Brothers store with his brother Herman on Guild Street in 1912.   By 1918, they were serving in World War I with over six hundred other Norwood men. 

It was a decade of growth at home, and turbulent changes in our world community: the labor and women's suffrage movements, Zionism, pogroms in Eastern Europe, and new waves of immigration to America.  Our community's second decade ended with a growing Jewish population in a hospitable town that was looking ahead to peacetime.  We began to think about building a synagogue of our own.


On a Sunday afternoon in 1920, members of the Norwood Hebrew
Congregation gathered in Fraternity Hall to raise funds and plan for the
building of a synagogue in Norwood. It was February 8th. Mr. Alec Cushing
was elected chairman of the committee created to carry out these plans.
Mr. Benjamin Lappin was elected treasurer. Others on the committee
included Louis Orent, Phillip Harris, Dr. George Klein, Abraham Fineman,
and Mr. Luberman. By the end of the meeting, Alec Cushing announced
that $1,500 had already been raised and projected that the amount would
be doubled shortly.

Plans went forward. By 1924, our congregation had secured property on
Washington Street and was ready to break ground. Much of the foundation
was laid by Rosh Hashonah. These would be our last High Holidays in the
Odd Fellows Hall.

A large crowd of over 500 people attended the cornerstone laying ceremony
on Sunday afternoon, November 2. Invitations had gone out to several
hundred non-Jewish members of the Norwood community, and all Norwood
residents were welcome to attend. Speakers included the Hon. Elihu D.
Stone, Massachusetts Assistant District Attorney. Thomas B. Mulvehill,
chairman of the Norwood Board of Selectmen; Dr. Fredrick Cleveland,
chairman of the Norwood School Board; and many other dignitaries
including politicians and area Jewish and non-Jewish clergy. On that single
day, over four thousand dollars were contributed to the building fund, with
many contributions from our non-Jewish neighbors in Norwood.

Original temple building on Washington Street
The building was ready in less than one year. At a large and impressive
ceremony on Sunday afternoon, August 30, 1925, the Norwood Hebrew
Congregation dedicated our new synagogue. It would henceforth be known
as Temple Shaare Tefilah, translated a "Gates of Prayer". Members, local
dignitaries, area rabbis, and our Norwood neighbors filled the synagogue.

We were mid-decade and enjoying what seemed like never-ending
prosperity and security.

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Optimism was giving way to caution.  In Norwood, we saw our new airport and
highway completion as hopeful signs, but we were affected by local labor unrest and national economic depression.  More importantly, we followed the disturbing developments in Europe.  Our national Jewish organizations protested the
oppressive Nazi policies in Germany.  At Shaare Tefilah, our members supported the massive protest rallies of March 27, 1933, which convened simultaneously in seventy-six American cities, including New York and Boston.  As the decade
continued, we supported the boycott of German products and watched in frustration
as the situation in Germany, nevertheless, spiraled downward.

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The 1940's began with Shaare Tefilah's Washington Street building under repair after
a fire the previous month had damaged our vestry and boiler room.  Monthly board meetings of the NHC (Norwood Hebrew Congregation, as we still often called ourselves) were resumed at the synagogue in February, and minutes of that meeting discussed allocation of funds for repair of the damage. 

By June of 1940, minutes of our board meeting showed a different focus.  The board voted support for the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League's work of lobbying and
educating the public in America.    As months passed, bad news flowed from more
and more countries abroad.  Almost 1,800 Norwood men registered for the draft in October, and many left for training in November, 1940. 

At Shaare Tefilah, we were feeling the need for professional spiritual leadership.  Our first Rabbi, Dr. Isaiah Wohlgemuth, joined the congregation that November and saw us through most of the war years.  Our Women's Council faced the challenges of wartime fundraising.  Nevertheless, it managed to raise money to purchase War Bonds and make donations to the synagogue, the Tuberculosis Hospital in Palestine, the United War Fund, the March of Dimes, and the American Red Cross War Fund. Our synagogue continued to grow during these years.  By 1945, we celebrated the burning of our mortgage on the Washington Street synagogue, which had become spiritual home to over 100 families.

We all know the painful history and unimaginable scope of the Holocaust and the Second World War.  Members of Shaare Tefilah were among the more than 2,000 Norwood residents who served this country during that time.  As Norwood citizens,
we lost seventy of our neighbors in the war.  As Jews, we lost one-third of our people.  Afterwards, our synagogue members continued to work and lobby for veterans, refugees, and the Zionist cause.  We rejoiced at the creation of Israel in 1948.

And we turned our thoughts back to our families, our town, and our synagogue.

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Peacetime brought prosperity and growth for Norwood and for Shaare Tefilah.  Our original nucleus of member families was graying but active at the synagogue.  The 1950's brought an influx of young Jewish families post-war, new brides and grooms migrating from Dorchester, Roxbury, and other locales.  They found affordable housing, often financed through GI loans, in friendly Norwood neighborhoods on either side of Route 1. 

Shaare Tefilah was a hub of community connection and activity.  There were picnics behind the synagogue, rummage sales, annual November dinners with dancing to an orchestra at the old Elks Building, groups of friends who met at each others' homes for canasta or bridge, and an active Sisterhood with lots of spirit.  The Couples Club met monthly for dinner and socializing.  Our children formed warm memories of the sukkah behind the synagogue, huge annual temple picnic/barbecues, close-knit groups of friends at Hebrew School, and their kind teacher, Mr. Sam Spector.

We participated actively in the Norwood community.  We also continued to support the infant State of Israel through the Jewish National Fund and, beginning in 1951, through Israel Bonds.
                Pre-Hebrew School Graduation (photo courtesy of Judy Hershman)
Pre-Hebrew School Graduation, June 1955 or 1956
(photo courtesy of Judy Hershman)

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Shaare Tefilah welcomed many families who were attracted to Norwood's increasing accessibility by highway and commuter rail.  Newcomers found a thriving synagogue with an active Sisterhood, Brotherhood, and Couples Club.  Often members were neighbors, with children who played and went to public school together.  A daily preschool was organized by members who were mothers of young children.  Hebrew School enrollment increased from forty-five students in 1963 to seventy-eight in 1964.  Older children attended Young Judea meetings at the synagogue, and teenagers enjoyed an active USY.  Because our sanctuary dominated the first floor of the Washington Street Synagogue, the all-purpose "vestry" downstairs served as our school, preschool, meeting space, and social hall.  It was getting crowded.     

                               Sanctuary in old building (photo Temple Shaare Tefilah archives)

In 1964, the synagogue began a building fund campaign to construct a new
synagogue on Nichols Street.  A ceremony to consecrate the site was held on
November 15, with a symbolic groundbreaking. Two years later, our new home
was ready.

               Temple members working ouside of new building (photo Temple Shaare Tefilah archives)
Moving day on Sunday, September 11, 1966, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: 
a processional of our Shaare Tefilah community on foot, children and adults,
bringing our Torah scrolls from old synagogue to new.  As we made our way
across town, our Norwood neighbors turned out to watch.  Dignitaries and church
leaders came to wish us well.  Our current members who were present describe
that day as a high point of their lives.  Jodi Diamond recalls that she had never felt
such pride in her life.  There didn't seem to be a Jewish person left at home that day.
We arrived at our new house of prayer and celebrated.

               Torahs carried out of old building (photo Temple Shaare Tefilah archives)

               Procession to new building (photo Temple Shaare Tefilah archives)

We blossomed in our new synagogue.  Membership increased to 150 families, and
our Hebrew School continued to grow.  The full-time nursery school had a waiting list.  Our members were active in the Norwood community, and in the world Jewish community, as well.

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Changes in our society were affecting the Jewish world, as well.  The Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary announced in 1973 its Halachic decision to permit women to be counted in a minyan.  Congregations took time getting used to the idea.  Shaare Tefilah called its first woman to the Torah for an aliyah in 1974.  Over the next few years, more women received aliyot and were eventually counted in minyanim.

More and more children were graduating from our Hebrew School and filling the ranks of our USY.  We enjoyed Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations, weddings, and a beautiful party in 1976 to mark the tenth anniversary of our new building.


Norwood's population dipped slightly in the 1980’s, but its school-age population decreased sharply as baby-boomers reached adulthood.  At Shaare Tefilah, our Religious School flourished.  Our numbers were healthy but leveling off, as we followed the demographics of the town. 

Our Diamond Jubilee Dinner Dance on April 9, 1983, marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of our charter.  A year and a half later, our Burn the Mortgage Celebration weekend included a Shabbat oneg, a gala dinner dance, and a mortgage-burning ceremony on Sunday, October 21, 1984.  It was not long before our first adult Bat Mitzvah class was called up to chant.  We continued to celebrate our community throughout the decade.

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We engaged the services of our first female rabbi in 1990. As the decade continued, women increasingly took part in religious services.  Many chanted Haftorot for the first time as adults. 

Each milestone continued to be cause for community celebration.  We declared 1991 to be our Bar Mitzvah, marking thirteen years past the first seventy-year "lifespan" of
our charter.  Our gala Ninetieth Anniversary Celebration was a joyous ingathering of
our Shaare Tefilah family on October 24, 1998.


The new century found us with smaller numbers and changing demographics.  Our school held smaller combined classes, and our Shabbat services became more intimate.

The year 2001 brought September 11 and its unspeakable loss.  At Shaare Tefilah,
our small Hebrew School class met on September 12 and spoke of little else. The children's handwritten remarks and prayers were posted on a paper in Founder's Hall with the heading, "Thinking About September 11th."  Our sanctuary was filled with members and neighbors for a memorial service on September 13.  A National Day of Prayer and Remembrance was declared on September 14, with candlelight vigils held in sympathy around the world.  In Norwood, we gathered with our neighbors on the Common that evening to pray together.

Amidst this decade's uncertainty, our small but close-knit Shaare Tefilah community remained a source of both constancy and evolution.  Rabbi Andrea Gouze joined us
in 2002, bringing her warmth, honesty, intellect, wit, and joy.  That same year, we honored Hazzan David Grossman at a gala celebration marking thirty years of service to our synagogue.  In the fall of 2006, David's son, Joshua Grossman, became our Hazzan.  His beautiful singing helped launch our One Hundredth Year in April, 2007. 

We look back.  We look forward.  Challenges abound, but the music continues.

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