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“Growing up in Chelsea ... prepared me for life.” - Norm Finkelstein

Chelsea’s Jewish History

During the major wave of Jewish immigration to America that took place between the 1890s and 1924, the city of Chelsea, Massachusetts, north of Boston, became a primary destination for new Jewish arrivals to the area. By the 1930s, when some of the Jewish Neighborhood Voices narrators were born, nearly half of Chelsea’s population was Jewish—and the city had the second largest Jewish population per square mile in the United States, after New York. Indeed, Chelsea in this era has sometimes been referred to as “the other Lower East Side.”

Chelsea’s Jewish Life

Within a relatively small geographical area (less than two square miles), Jewish immigrants lived in a densely populated area of tenement buildings and multifamily houses. The streets of Chelsea, including the main thoroughfares of Walnut Street and Broadway, bustled with Jewish-owned shops, markets, delis, services, and more. More than a dozen synagogues served the Jewish population; today, only Walnut Street Shul and Temple Emmanuel remain in operation. 

Memories of Chelsea

The narrators who grew up in Chelsea speak fondly of a time and place where they were surrounded by strong Jewish life and community. They also describe a diverse and largely tolerant place, in which they interacted closely with friends and neighbors from other immigrant and ethnic groups. At the same time, some referred to their neighborhoods in Chelsea as a shtetl—a tight-knit Jewish community that had imported traditional Jewish life and customs to create a self-contained world. For all, growing up in Chelsea inspired a strong Jewish identity—and the city to this day is a deep-seated part of who they are.

Meet the Narrators of Chelsea

Chelsea Narrators

Learn about the Chelsea narrators, and hear selected stories of growing up in the neighborhood.

Chelsea narrators

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Dorchester and Roxbury

Learn about the Jewish history of Dorchester and Roxbury, and hear memories of the neighborhoods.