The story of the Jewish community in the Pioneer Valley is detailed in a new exhibit at the Springfield Museums titled One Hundred Years of Jewish Life in the Valley: From Shtetl to Suburb. The exhibit is on view in the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History from September 17, 2013 to March 2, 2014. The exhibit is sponsored by Temple Beth El, with generous support from Jewish Endowment Foundation, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Chez Josef, Dave’s Soda and Pet City, and Jewish Geriatric Services. The media partner for the exhibit is The Jewish Ledger. MassMutual is the 2013 Premier Sponsor of the Springfield Museums.
The exhibit’s guest curator is Dr. Stuart Anfang, past president of Beth El, which is celebrating its centennial this year. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to collaborate and celebrate the proud heritage of our entire Springfield Jewish community,” explains Anfang, who developed the exhibit with professionals from the Museum.
The new exhibit chronicles how Jewish immigrants first came to the region, many as a result of pogroms in Czarist Russia in the late 19th century. Early leaders of the Jewish community are also highlighted, including Leopold Karpeles, a Bohemian Jew who settled in Springfield and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War.
Through a combination of historical artifacts and photos, the exhibit documents the growth of the Jewish community in both size and influence from the early 20th century to the present day. During this time, the Jewish community settled on Liberty, Sharon and a few other streets in the North End of Springfield. The exhibit includes a number of photographs and artifacts documenting Jewish life in that area.
The exhibit also traces the eventual decline of inner city neighborhoods in places like Springfield after World War II and the impact on Springfield’s Jewish community. By 1966, two-thirds of the area Jewish population resided in either Forest Park or Longmeadow. Demographic shifts and a massive urban renewal project in the North End in the 1960s eventually resulted in the relocation of most remaining synagogues and Jewish institutions to Dickinson Street and Longmeadow.
The exhibit winds up with a look at the institutions existing today that keep the Jewish community thriving. Guy McLain, Director of the Wood Museum of Springfield History stated that “The story of Jewish immigrants and their work to develop a thriving community over the last century is a fascinating tale of courage, hard work, and perseverance. Their story is unique, but also emblematic of the challenges faced by so many immigrant groups throughout America’s history.”