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About Neighborhood Voices
About Neighborhood Voices

About Jewish Neighborhood Voices

About Neighborhood Voices

Maroon speech bubble containing the words: "Jewish Neighborhood Voices"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.

About the Oral History Project

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 These interviews both amplify the stories behind historical documents and become primary-source documentation themselves.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.

Selection of Neighborhoods and Narrators

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.

Supporters

Supporters

“Jewish Neighborhood Voices” was made possible by an “Expanding Massachusetts Stories” grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities ("Mass Humanities"), 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.

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Partners

COMMUNITY PARTNERS 

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. 

 

ADDITIONAL PARTICIPANTS

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.

Additional Resources

Explore additional resources related to “Jewish Neighborhood Voices.”

Learn More

 

Interviewers

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. 

Andrew Fehribach, date unknown, image courtesy of Andrew Fehribach.

ANDREW FEHRIBACH

Interviewed: Elaine Baskin, Arthur Goldstein, Marshall Silberberg, Laura Till

Andrew is a graduate of Centre College, where he studied History and German. He assisted with the research and interviews for "Jewish Neighborhood Voices" in 2022, conducting interviews with narrators from Dorchester, doing primary and secondary source research, and reviewing transcriptions for metadata application and pattern recognition. Andrew greatly enjoyed the conversations he had with each narrator. 

Alan Pierce, date unknown, image courtesy of Alan Pierce.

Alan Pierce

Interviewed: Joel Sherman, Jack Stahl, Paul Sugarman

Alan Pierce was born and raised on the North Shore of Boston. He is an attorney and founded the Salem law firm now known as Pierce, Pierce & Napolitano in 1985. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of both Temple B’nai Abraham and the Maple Hill Cemetery in Peabody. Alan was president of the Jewish Historical Society of the North Shore for more than ten years, is a frequent speaker on local Jewish history on the North Shore, and wrote, edited, and published two books on the topic.

Ellen Rovner, date unknown, image courtesy of Ellen Rovner.

Ellen Rovner

Interviewed: Cheryl Goldstein, Estelle Ringer

Ellen is an anthropologist and food historian. She is the founder of the Chelsea Gateway Project/Chelsea Jewish Tours, which creates a forum for the expression of immigrant experiences by walking through the landscape of Chelsea’s one-time Jewish community.

Herbert Selesnick, date unknown, image courtesy of Herbert Selesnick.

Herbert Selesnick

Interviewed: Judy Zimman Arnell, Sara Lee Callahan, Robert Feinberg, Norman Finkelstein, Arleen Silverlieb, Michael Zimman

Herb is the recording secretary of the Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) Advisory Council. In addition, he led the Advisory Council in formulating the JHC’s five-year strategic plan. Herb served as the North Shore Jewish Heritage Center’s recording secretary for many years before the Center merged its archival collections and financial resources with the JHC’s holdings.

Lily Spar, date unknown, image courtesy of Lily Spar.

Lily Spar

Interviewed: Abbot Gilman, Ethel Sinofsky, Kenneth Wolkon

A native of Los Angeles, Lily Spar is a 2023 graduate of Wesleyan University, concentrating in History and Religion. Lily was an intern for the Jewish Heritage Center in Summer 2022, working primarily on Jewish Neighborhood Voices Project, for which she interviewed narrators, reviewed interviews and transcripts, and conducted archival research for the exhibit. She loved hearing the endearing stories in the oral histories of life in Lynn, Chelsea, Roxbury, and Dorchester.

Hinda Sterling, date unknown, image courtesy of Hinda Sterling.

HINDA STERLING

Interviewed: Joanne Fox Brumberg, Jack Weiss

Hinda is Visiting Professor of Organizational Psychology at Salem State University, in the Industrial/Organizational Psychology Master's program. She teaches graduate courses on process consultation, group facilitation, and organizational culture. Hinda is also a Peer Mentor in the Mass General Brigham Cancer Center's one-on-one support program for patients who receive a cancer diagnosis.

Contribute to Jewish Neighborhood Voices

Jack Fox serving dinner, circa 1950s, Jewish Neighborhood Voices collection in the JHC archive.

Support This Work

Help the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center capture and preserve more stories from the Jewish past.

Quizdown at Shurtleff School in Chelsea, undated, Sterling and Selesnick Family Papers in the JHC archive.

Share Your Memories

Do you have stories from your own childhood growing up in these Greater Boston neighborhoods during the 1920s through 1950s?