About this Online Exhibit
This exhibit features selected stories from the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center’s “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” oral history project. The exhibit is organized around the places, people, and common themes of the oral history interviews.
Throughout the exhibit, audio clips are interspersed with images and documents from the JHC’s archival collections. Unless otherwise noted, all images in the exhibit are from collections at the JHC and depict people and places from the featured neighborhoods.
Explore this page to learn more about the “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” oral history project, and those who supported, advised, and participated in it.
The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center undertook “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” to capture and preserve firsthand accounts of historically Jewish neighborhoods in Greater Boston in the first half of the 20th century, before the generation with direct experience of the late 19th/early 20th-century Jewish immigrant population is gone. In 2022, trained volunteer interviewers conducted 19 interviews with 20 individuals who grew up in Jewish neighborhoods in Chelsea, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Lynn, Massachusetts.
The narrators’ memories are a link to the past and provide a vivid window onto the streetscapes, people, and Jewish life of a particular place and time. As first- and second-generation Americans, the narrators also describe the broader experience of acculturation, as they and their families incorporated American ways of life alongside traditional Jewish customs.
Oral history is a method of preserving the past through recorded interviews. These interviews both amplify the stories behind historical documents and become primary-source documentation themselves. The “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” oral histories complement and enhance the JHC’s many other archival collections documenting the history of Jewish families, businesses, and institutions in Chelsea, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Lynn.
The collection of full “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” oral histories, along with their transcripts, are preserved for the future in the Jewish Heritage Center’s Digital Library and Archive. Visit this online repository to hear the oral histories in full.
Chelsea, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Lynn were selected as examples of Massachusetts communities with thriving Jewish populations a century ago that today have different ethnic and demographic compositions. Dorchester and Roxbury are treated together in this exhibit because the history of Jewish settlement in the two neighborhoods follows a similar pattern and chronology, and because some of our narrators lived in both places.
Our selection criteria for narrators to interview were that they were first- or second-generation members of Jewish immigrant families, and that they not only spent formative years in the neighborhoods in question but also considered those neighborhoods to be part of their identity.
In addition to preserving these stories as primary-source history, “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” aims to inform audiences of all backgrounds about the experience and contributions of past Jewish generations in Massachusetts communities—and to give today’s residents an understanding of the richly textured and layered history of their neighborhoods, and of their own roles as historical shapers of these places for the future.
Many Massachusetts communities have important and fascinating Jewish history. The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center hopes to add more neighborhoods and more voices to the “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” collection in the future.
“Jewish Neighborhood Voices” was made possible by an “Expanding Massachusetts Stories” grant from Massachusetts Humanities Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and by a Community Impact Grant from Combined Jewish Philanthropies. The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at American Ancestors thanks these generous funders for their support and their commitment to highlighting Jewish community history.
We are grateful to our “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” Community Partners, who helped shape the project, provided invaluable advice and feedback throughout, and connected us to narrators and community resources.
- Thomas Barth, Walnut Street Shul
- Lynda Bussgang, Hebrew SeniorLife
- Jessie Klein, Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston
- Carolyn Kohlman, Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston
- Ed Medros, Walnut Street Shul
- Alan Pierce, former co-president, Jewish Heritage Center of North Shore
- Ellen Rovner, Walnut Street Shul
- Herb Selesnick, former co-president, Jewish Heritage Center of North Shore
ORAL HISTORY ADVISOR
Judith Monachina, Director of the Housatonic Heritage Oral History Center at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, was the Humanities Advisor for the “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” project and an invaluable partner. We are grateful for her generous time, training, and guidance throughout the project.
The JHC would like to thank the following volunteers who helped with the “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” oral history project and this online exhibit:
- Karen Clausen-Brown
- Andrew Fehribach
- Lily Spar
- Chloe Stronge
We also thank Claire Vail, Vice President of Communications and Digital Strategy, and the web team at American Ancestors for their support; and Hookson Digital Agency for designing and building this exhibit.
The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center acknowledges and thanks the six “Jewish Neighborhood Voices” oral-history interviewers, whose time, enthusiasm, and commitment were integral to the project. They received training in oral history methodology and techniques from advisor Judith Monachina and orientation to the project's goals before conducting the interviews. Each brought unique personality, experience, and knowledge to the interviewing process, which results in a wonderful range of colorful and informative oral histories.