It was not long after the first Jewish families arrived in Nonantum that there were enough of them within walking distance of one another for a minyan (a quorum for congregational prayer). They had come to America as refugees, with nothing, and could not afford to build a synagogue. To hold religious services, they met in each other's homes for over a decade.
|...and before the synagogue was built we would know if Abraham held a yahrzeit for his mother --- you didn't have to be told, you just went over there to his home and helped make the minyan...||...we'd all get together and the holidays were wonderful and we knew everyone else. It was not too small and not too large, we really were a devout, respectful, traditional group.|
The only place where there was a little congregation was a little street called Maguire Court off Crafts Street... it seemed to be the lowest rentals.
I've been told that my grandfather [Alexander Maguire] never let them move till they bought their own home... [He] didn't give them money, he gave them good advice...
I was born in Maguire Court. Literally born in the Court.
...mother said that her father [Alexander Maguire] said that all the Jewish men would go into the living room in Maguire Court and they would have their service. My grandfather would lie on a couch in the kitchen and smoke his pipe.
[By the time the synagogue was built, they] were almost a hundred percent self-employed. Not any that I knew worked for anyone else and surprisingly, almost a hundred percent owned their own homes.
On special occasions, they rented larger premises; possibly space above the stores in Newtonville Square; and certainly Lafayette Hall.
Lafayette Hall, at 101 Dalby Street, was the meeting hall of the French Canadians. They had built it in 1905.
But beginning in 1911, Lafayette Hall became the Church of St. Jean l'Evangeliste, popularly called "the French Church."
Later, in 1963, Lafayette Hall became the home of the Nonantum Boys Club, which became the Newton Boys Club in 1954, and the Newton Boys and Girls Club in 1989. (See photo at right.) In 2000, the Newton Boys and Girls Club sold Lafayette Hall to a developer who demolished it.
The 48-star flag that was displayed in the shul's social hall (now stored in the shul office) was donated in the early 1990's. It used to hang in the Nonantum Boy's Club in Lafayette Hall.
In 1909, the "Hungarians," a group composed predominantly but not exclusively of the store owners, incorporated Knesses Israel Anshei Sfard. They bought the house at 97 Dalby Street (the house next door to Lafayette Hall) and used it as a synagogue.
This was the first synagogue in Newton, but it lasted only a few years, and in 1914 the house was sold and the remaining members joined Agudas Achim Anshei Sfard, the Adams Street Shul, which had been incorporated in 1911.
Mrs. Hazel Schwartz Santis, whose parents bought 97 Dalby Street some years later, remembers...
"...many Jewish marks on the walls --- it was a holy inscription. My mother would never let it be repainted."