In 1911, the year that Lafayette Hall became the French Church, the Jews of Nonantum were established enough to dream of building a synagogue.
They took out a charter and began raising money to construct the Adams Street Shul. This was an ambitious undertaking for such a small and not too affluent community.
The Original Charter bears the names of some of the founding families: Jacob Swartz, Joseph Mielman, Joseph Roiter, Jacob Kligman, Hyman Mielman, Benjamin Gilfix, and Morris Gilfix. Many of these names are still with the shul, through their descendents.
On the Charter, the official name of the congregation was "Congregation Agudas Achim Anshai Sfard of Newton." The leaders of the newly chartered congregation circulated a Pledge Book which began with a fascinating handwritten "History of the Community and Statement of Purpose " (see below). The Pledge Book records a very large number of very small donations, some recorded in English and some in Yiddish.
There were just a handful of large donations, each for one hundred dollars. One was from the famous New York financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff. One was from the Honorable Sinclair Weeks (then only eighteen years old, but later to become Mayor of Newton, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce).
Other sympathetic non-Jews, such as Dr. Thomas Gallagher and Joseph Flanagan, also made large contributions. This diversity of support accurately reflects the wonderful community spirit of Nonantum that the synagogue has enjoyed throughout the decades.
Construction began on August 4, 1912. The local newspaper report (at left) notes details. As far as we know, there was no architect; and no one can remember the name of the building contractor, but he seems to have come from outside Newton. Congregants who were able to help did so.
My father was a carpenter in the old country... My brother remembers --- he must have been about thirteen years old at the time --- going there with my father and helping laying the flooring there, nailing it, and running little errands. So I know they did a lot of the work themselves.
The completed Adams Street Shul was opened with much public celebration on Chanukah of 1912 — December 15th at 12 noon to be precise. So our annual Chanukah party is also our birthday party! The poster advertising the original Opening Day event has both an English and a Yiddish section. (The Yiddish section comes first and is larger.)
The Adams Street Shul is Newton's oldest synagogue. It is the third oldest synagogue in New England. (Some congregations may be older, but they have moved from town to town, and into new buildings.)
The Shul was built with cash donations and a mortgage that was not paid off until after the Second World War. The new congregation could not afford to hire any employees, nor to support a rabbi. Its original Constitution and By-Laws reflect its character as an all-volunteer "do-it-yourself " shul.
Today, almost one hundred years later, there are four more orthodox synagogues in Newton: Congregation Shaarei T'filah, Congregation Beth El - Ateret Yisrael, The Zhviller Beis Midrash, and The Chabad House of Newton.
Here is a transcription of the handwritten preamble in the Pledge Book that recorded the donatons received to build the Adams Street Shul.