Jews began settling in Western Massachusetts—which includes the cities and towns of Springfield, Amherst, Holyoke, Longmeadow, Northampton, Greenfield, Pittsfield, North Adams, Westfield, Athol, Great Barrington, and Florence, among others—after the Civil War and made livings as shopkeepers, tailors, watchmakers, shoemakers, leather goods dealers, and various other trades. In Springfield, by 1905 the Jewish population grew to over 400 families made up of 2,500 individuals, making up three percent of the city’s total population. As the Jewish population in Western Massachusetts grew, Jewish residents began establishing congregations to cater to the community’s religious needs. Early Jewish residents in Springfield formed the Agudass Achem Society circa 1886-1887. Meeting first in rented rooms in Springfield’s North End, the group officially incorporated as Congregation Beth Israel in 1892 and built the city’s first synagogue on Gray’s Avenue. Numerous other congregations formed in the late 19th century and early 20th century throughout the region, including Springfield’s Congregation B’nai Jacob (1891), Congregation Kesser Israel (1900), Congregation Sons of Israel (1902), Temple Beth El (1913), and Congregation Kodimoh (1916); Northampton’s Congregation B’nai Israel (1905), Greenfield’s Temple Israel (1918); Amherst’s Jewish Community of Amherst (1969), among many others. The Jewish community also formed numerous clubs, philanthropic foundations, arts and cultural events, and schools to cater to the growing Jewish community, including the Springfield Jewish Community Center (JCC), Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center, Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, and many, many more. In 2007, the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts (JHSWM) was founded with the mission to document the local Jewish community's history. In 2016, the JHSWN donated its archives to the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center.
Below are the JHC’s archival collections related to the Western Massachusetts Jewish community. Click on a title to see an overview of the collection, view the collection’s finding aid (guide to the collection and its contents), and, if applicable, view the digitized collection on our Digital Library & Archives.
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This collection contains photographs, correspondence, news clippings, vital records, genealogical materials, sheet music, recordings, and manuscripts documenting the Freedman family of Springfield, Massachusetts. Included are materials on Joseph and Lena (Sakowitz) Freedman, and their children Jacob Freedman, a rabbi, scholar, translator, and writer; Samuel Freedman; Martin Freedman; and Sarah (Freedman) Aizenstat.
The Hebrew Free Loan Association was formed circa 1935 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts to offer interest-free loans to dues-paying members of the organization in need of temporary financial relief. The records of the Association consist of two bound ledgers, one containing minutes from meetings of the organization’s officers, and the other holding a list of account holders and their transactions between 1949 and 1970.
The Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts Records contain materials collected by the society that document the Jewish community of Western Massachusetts. Included are materials on Jewish organizations, families, individuals, schools, arts and cultural institutions, and synagogues; publications written about or by the Jewish community; and information on the Jewish Historical Society of Western Massachusetts itself.
The Jewish Weekly News was a weekly newspaper serving the Jewish community of Western Massachusetts, published from 1945 to 1997. The JHC has bound volumes of issues of its entire run.