The Jewish Advocate: Guide to Jewish Boston

Each year, The Jewish Advocate publishes a directory of Jewish organizations, institutions, businesses, and services to be distributed as a supplement to the paper, hoping to entice those new to the city to subscribe. While most of the content doesn’t change much from year to year, there was an effort to keep the guide fresh by publishing new introductory essays to the various sections each year. This was my contribution to the 2005 guide. I believe it ran as the general introduction to the guide as a whole. In retrospect, it feels like a little bit of foreshadowing to the role I’d take on half a decade later at JewishBoston.com.

Welcome to Boston. If you’ve made it far enough to be holding a copy of this guide in your hands, you’re already off to a great start. Inside, you’ll find listings of all sorts of businesses, organizations, and institutions that will enrich your time here in the Bay State. And, just in case addresses and phone numbers aren’t your thing, we’ve included a handful of helpful essays to point you in the right direction and tell you a little bit about our home.

The first thing to understand about Boston is our rather unique approach to geography. While Boston is itself a city with clearly defined borders, to locals, “Boston” can describe anywhere from Providence, RI to Worcester, MA. When a college student tells you they “go to school in Boston,” they’re as likely to be speaking euphemistically about Harvard or MIT (both in Cambridge) as they are to be actually talking about Boston College (in Chestnut Hill – technically not Boston) or Boston University (in Allston, which technically, is Boston.) Each area of Boston – and of “Boston” – has its own unique character and something different to offer. 

“Boston Proper,” as locals refer to it, includes the downtown area, but also includes the pseudo-towns of Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, and more – each with its own identity. Allston and Brighton (often lumped together as Allston-Brighton) is home to the aforementioned college students, with more on their way as Harvard slowly develops its massive holdings in Allston. Brighton is also the home of a sizable Russian Jewish population, as well as a Chasidic community. Because Allston-Brighton are the cheaper, somewhat more accessible neighbors to Brookline – the Jewish capital of Massachusetts – they are also home to many young Jewish professionals and Jewish families who have been priced out of the more desirable neighboring town. The area encompassing Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, etc. is “the old country” for Bostonian Jews. Like New York’s lower east side, these were the neighborhoods that were filled with Jewish families, businesses, and synagogues during the first half of the last century. The Jewish populations of these areas declined beginning in the 1950s as Jews migrated to the more spacious and green areas west of the city. Many Jewish families felt forced out due to the “red-lining” of the area by the banks and real estate agents, who employed scare tactics to encourage Jews to sell their homes for less than they were worth, and then only offered loans to African-American families if they’d move into these formerly Jewish neighborhoods. Many older members of the Jewish community still nurse wounds from this era, although the “Jewish flight” was more or less complete by the 1970s.

The suburbs of Boston are organized into metro areas: “Metro West” refers to Newton, Wellesley, Natick, Framingham, etc, basically the towns bordering Route 9. Most of the state’s kosher restaurants and Jewish day schools, and many of our other Jewish institutions, can be found in the Metro West. While once the Jewish community was confined to Newton and Brookline, as these areas become more crowded and more pricey, the Jewish communities further on down Route 9 are becoming more and more lively, with new synagogues and day schools popping up over the last several years.

The “South Shore” can be anywhere from New Bedford and Fall River up through Quincy and Braintree, including Sharon, Stoughton, Canton, Randolph, etc. Sharon, once the lake-side summer home of Jews from Boston, is now the Boston suburb with the highest percentage of Jews – the website of Young Israel of Sharon estimates “that the population is upwards of 70% Jewish.” And while Sharon has its share of synagogues and schools, neighboring Canton got the kosher butcher, Randolph the Jewish bookstore, and Stoughton a Schechter school and a JCC. Most of the South Shore is just far enough away from the city to be “commuter rail” accessible rather than on the T (although the end of the red line reaches Quincy and Braintree), so it feels just that much more distinct.

The “North Shore” stretches from Everett and Malden, just north of the city, to the upper reaches of the route 128 loop, encompassing Peabody, Danvers, Saugus, Marblehead, and Lynn. The North Shore is even more separate from the Boston Jewish Community than the South Shore because it’s serviced by its own Federation, so they have their own set of community celebrations (and fundraisers). To Bostonians, Worcester feels like the farthest reaches of the state, and “Western Mass” seems like a mythical fairyland, somewhere over by Vermont or Connecticut, or maybe California, we’re not sure, but we’re pretty sure that’s where our kids go for summer camp.

Of course, geography is only the beginning. To really feel at home in the Boston Jewish community, you need to learn to talk the talk. Don’t know CJP from JF&CS? Can’t tell the difference between the JCC and the JCRC? Don’t understand why people still talk about the “Hebrew Rehab” and “New Jew” even though neither exists under those names any more? Here’s a quick reference guide to the lingo of the Boston Jewish Community:

CJP, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, is the Boston-area Jewish Federation, a member of the UJC (United Jewish Communities). Essentially, they raise money and redistribute it to the Jewish community, secular charities, projects in Israel, etc. They also coordinate Boston’s relationship with the Israeli city of Haifa, Boston’s sister city under the Partnership 2000 project.

JF&CS is Jewish Family and Children’s Service, a social service agency that provides health care and services to people of all faiths. The JCRC, or Jewish Community Relations Council, strives to be “the representative voice of the organized Jewish community.” They organize social justice programs, advocate for Jewish community concerns, and issue statements on behalf of “the Jewish community.” The JCC is, of course, the Jewish Community Center. The JCCs of Greater Boston have their main campus at the Leventhal Sidman JCC in Newton, but also operate the Striar JCC in Stoughton as well as several summer camps and programs, the young adult outreach groups GesherCity Boston and Jewish InterAction, and more.

The Hebrew Rehab, now known as Jewish Senior Life, is a 675-bed, kosher Jewish nursing home in Roslindale. Chances are, at least one of your friends either has or had a grandparent there at one time. “New Jew” was the nickname of Gann Academy, the pluralistic Jewish high school in Waltham, during the first ten or so years of its life as “The New Jewish High School.” Don’t confuse it with “Maimo,” the Maimonides School in Brookline, the Orthodox day school for kids in kindergarten through high school.

The list could go on for pages. And, in a sense, it does. In the pages of this book, you’ll find everything you need to navigate your way through the vibrant Jewish world of Boston and its environs. Enjoy! And we’ll see you when the YLD of the CJP joins the BJE at the JCC for a program by the JCRC.

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