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Springfield

SPRINGFIELD

SPRINGFIELD , city in Massachusetts. As of 2005, Springfield and its suburbs had a total population of 251,000, including an estimated 10,000 Jews, a figure largely unchanged in the past quarter-century. Jews did not begin to settle in Springfield in large numbers until the East European immigration of the 1880s, though individual Jews were recorded in the city previously, among them Leopold Karpeles (1838–1909), a Congressional Medal of Honor winner in the Civil War who lived in Springfield before the war. The first synagogues – B'nai Jacob and Beth Israel – were organized in 1891–92, and within a decade five other Orthodox congregations were established to serve the rapidly growing community, whose numbers increased from about 300 to 3,000 between 1901 and 1907 alone. YMHA was organized in 1905 and a Jewish Home for the Aged in 1912. One of the first local Jews to attain prominence in these years was the Lithuanian-born Henry Lasker (1878–1953), the first local Jew to be admitted to the bar and who between 1908 and 1916 was first elected alderman and then president of the city council. Lasker was a leader of B'nai B'rith and many other Jewish and civic organizations. Two other prominent Jews were the Russian immigrants Moses Ehrlich, who had a successful scrap-iron business and Raphael Sagalyn (1881–1949), a successful wholesale dry goods and real estate businessman. Ehrlich was a prime initiator and first president of Congregation Kodimoh; Sagalyn was founder of the United Hebrew Schools and president of its board of directors.

Following the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s, the Jewish population of Springfield ceased its rapid growth but institutional life continued to develop. In 1921, the first Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth El, was founded, and in 1932 a Reform congregation, Sinai Temple. The Jewish Community Council (predecessor to the Jewish Federation of Greater Springfield) was established in 1925, and the Jewish Social Service Bureau was established in 1927. In 1966, eight synagogues and temples were in existence in Greater Springfield, five Orthodox, two Conservative, and one Reform. The initial settlement took place in the city's older residential areas, primarily the North End area. After World War ii, both the newer urban areas and the suburb of Longmeadow became increasingly popular. By 1966, only 5% of Greater Springfield's Jews still lived in the older area of settlement, while 60% lived in the newer urban areas. Of the 35% who resided in the suburbs, all but 3% were in Longmeadow, which adjoins the largest of the newer urban areas within Springfield proper, Forest Park. Accordingly, three of the largest Jewish institutions in the city, Temple Sinai, Congregation Beth El, and the Jewish Community Center, are all located near each other on the Longmeadow – Forest Park line, with two other synagogues remaining in Forest Park.

High educational achievement and occupational affiliation characterized the Jewish community in the late 1960s. Among adults, 40% had had at least some college education. One-fourth were engaged in professional work and 40% were managers or proprietors. An additional 27% were employed as clerical or sales workers; only 8% of the Jews were blue collar workers. Almost 80% of the Jews of Springfield were affiliated with a congregation; slightly more persons were members of Orthodox synagogues (41%) than of Conservative congregations (39%), and 20% belonged to the Reform Temple. Part-time religious schools were affiliated with the various synagogues, and there were the community-wide United Hebrew School and two day schools, the Heritage Academy and the Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy. Two-thirds of all children between 5 and 14 years of age were enrolled in some program of Jewish education.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, a different picture has emerged, consistent with demographic trends throughout the country. Springfield's Jewish affiliation rate is now approximately the same as the national average of just above 40%. Although Springfield's Jewish community remains highly educated, much of the population is engaged in the professions (medicine, law, etc.), with very few proprietors and entrepreneurs. The Jewish population is increasingly older, with a small number of young families continuing to move to the area. In 2005, Springfield/Longmeadow had two day schools (Heritage Academy, Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy) and six synagogues: three Orthodox (Congregation Kodimoh, Kesser Israel, and Beth Israel), two Conservative (Beth El and B'nai Jacob), and one Reform (Sinai Temple).

The Jewish community has grown significantly in the area just north of Springfield to the Vermont border. The communities of Northampton and Amherst, in particular, have witnessed significant Jewish growth, with approximately 5,000 Jews in these communities. Home to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Smith College and others, the area attracts many academics, artists, and young professionals from larger cities. In 2005, the Upper Pioneer Valley boasted four synagogues, two of them with several hundred families. There are two Conservative synagogues (B'nai Israel, Northampton; Temple Israel, Greenfield), one Reform (Beit Ahavah, Northampton), and one Reconstructionist (Jewish Community of Amherst). Founded in the 1990s, the Solomon Schechter School of the Pioneer Valley has opened its doors to 100 students.

A variety of organizations and services continue to cater to the needs of the community. The Springfield Jewish Community Center traces its origins to the ymha. The Jewish community supports a wide range of Zionist and fraternal organizations, with a strong Federation and an active Hadassah chapter, as well as many groups under temple auspices. The community is also the home of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Among notable members of the Springfield Jewish community are Frank Freedman, mayor, elected in 1967; Alan Sisitsky, state representative, elected in 1968; Paul Akerman, city councilman; Joel Levitt, president of the Springfield Jewish Federation (founded in 1938) and president of the Springfield Sugar Company; Irving Geisser, executive director of the federation and a member of the executive committee of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council; Charles Nirenberg, Founder of Dairy Mart; and Harold Grinspoon, nationally recognized philanthropist and founder of Aspen Square Management.

[Sidney Goldstein /

Harold Berman (2nd ed.)]

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