Norwood’s Jewish Community

The blue outline denotes the area of the Pale of Settlement.

All of the Jewish families that lived in Norwood in the early 1900s record their nationality as “Russian.” In 1920, Norwood’s census taker recorded the towns people came from if they were born in another country. It appears Norwood’s Jews came from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the sections that eventually became modern day Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. When the Commonwealth fell to Tsarist Russia in 1795, Jews who lived within the borders of the old Commonwealth faced large scale anti-Semitism. They were forced to live in a section referred to as the “Pale of Settlement,” where they could not legally establish permanent residency, even within local large cities, they ultimately created small communities, called Shtetls, on the outskirts of cities. Life in Shtetls was bleak. Unable to rely on agricultural jobs, most Jewish residents in the Pale relied on artisan jobs or became merchants, but with little opportunity, Jews who lived in Shtetls, faced extreme poverty. Jews in the Pale of Settlement also faced violent pogroms, where brutal mobs destroyed their communities and killed those who lived there. Those who chose to escape from Eastern Europe were not just looking for better opportunities, but hopefully in a new country they would find freedom as well as peace.

The top of the old Temple on Washington Street.

In 1900 there were two Jewish families living in Norwood. By 1908, there were seventeen families in Norwood, enough to establish a Temple on Washington Street. Census records show most lived within walking distance of the Temple, some within the area of South Norwood. Most provided services for others and a few worked in Norwood’s factories. They operated tailor shops, cobbler shops and several small stores along Washington Street. Benjamin Cushing came to Norwood and first operated a “junk dealership,” but eventually he owned an operated a metal stamping business in Norwood. Cushing was also a leader within Norwood’s Jewish community. Not only as a businessman but he is credited with establishing the Temple in town. Norwood’s Jewish population grew slowly over several decades, but by 1966, there were more then 175 families that were members of the Temple requiring the Congregation to build a new Temple in town.

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