Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adas Israel, Fall River, Massachusetts, 1893-2012 an end of an era


If you Drive by today the magnificent structure of Adas Israel, you will no longer see a Magen David on the door, it is now owned by a church. A long and fascinating history has finally come to its end, the last standing Orthodox Synagogue in Southeastern Mass. has closed its doors. Founded in 1893 in the downtown area of the town, which now has a population of 90,000, this massive building was inaugurated in 1959, in the best part of town.

In the early 1900s, Fall River was a textile industry center, and the majority of the factory owners were Jews who hailed from NY. At one time there were 5 Orthodox synagogues, Kosher bakeries, groceries... anything a Jew might need. Now, the only thing trace you may find of this once vibrant community are its 2 well-maintained cemeteries.

Adas Israel was more than just a place to pray at its prime. It hosted a Hebrew School, a sisterhood, a wedding hall (The last President of the Shul, Jeffrey Weissman got married in the shul, 1963), a large children's library, 2 kosher kitchens, a Rabbis fund and most importantly hundreds of members. The younger generation mostly moved out or assimilated, leaving the average age of the Jews in town in the high 70s of their life. The synagogue has not had a local minyan for many years, even for the high holidays, when young men had to be imported to help fill the quorum.

When I arrived in the town days before the sale was finalized, I found an extremely well kept place, with a library that would not embarrass any Rabbi. The children's library was perfectly organized by sections and in good order, though no child has been in the synagogue for several decades now. Removing the books from the shelves, I felt I was taking 120 years of history with me.

When times were good in town, dissidents from Adas Israel established the American Brothers of Israel in about 1892. It eventually merged with Adas Israel again. At the beginning of the 20th century a third synagogue, Aguda B'nai Jacob, was founded. Abraham Lipshitz began ministering to these three congregations, which made up the Orthodox community, about 1910, serving them for over 30 years. In the decade 1910–20 Congregation Beth David was founded, Hebrew schools were established, and in 1924 a Conservative synagogue, Temple Beth El, was founded. Morton Goldberg served the congregation from 1925 to 1937, when Jacob Freedman replaced him as spiritual leader. Rabbi Freedman helped found the Fall River Jewish Community Council (1938), which in 1970 included about 25 societies and organizations. The other major communal institution is the Fall River United Jewish Appeal.

Jews prominent in Fall River life have included David L. Gourse, clothier and commissioner of public welfare; Albert Rubin, a state legislator for many years; H. William Radovsky, finance commissioner; and Rabbi Samuel Ruderman, long considered the spokesman for the Jewish community. David H. Radovsky and Moses Entin both played important roles in fraternal organizations and in the Zionist movement. Two nationally known businessmen and philanthropists, Jacob Ziskind and Albert A. List, were from Fall River. Another resident, Dr. Irving Fradkin, inaugurated Dollars for Scholars, an educational funding program which has been adopted by communities throughout the United States.

From their arrival in Fall River, Jews were involved in peddling and in operating small retail establishments. Many Jewish-owned businesses suffered as a result of the 1904 textile strike. Later, large furniture and retail clothing stores were established, and Jews engaged in finance and in operating textile mills. Although textile production has decreased, many Jews are involved in garment contracting; others are professionals, small retailers, and landlords.

Many thanks to the last President, Jeffrey Weissman, and the Vice President Clifford Lander for all their help in moving the library and all, we had some great times together. Thus ends another chapter in small town communities, which seem to be folding itself one synagogue at a time throughout America.

In the past few days after buying the synagogue, Word of Life Church leaders and members have erected their religious symbols, while also leaving a prominent one that says in Hebrew, “Know before whom you stand.”


  1. My grandmother ע"ה grew up in Fall River and I visited it a few times as a child. Her family name was Rachlin and she had brothers still living there in the '40s. The Rov, Rabbi Avrohom Lifschitz was the son of R' Yaakov Lifschitz who was R' Yizchok Elchonon's secretary and who wrote זכרון יעקב R' Avrohom was one of the first, if not the first, to record Torah on vinyl disks. We still have a few in the family.

  2. Hi There,
    I saw the post and I am myself a grandchild of the Rachlin's of Fall River, maybe we are related, please contact me at

  3. Mocdeg -

    What do you mean by the Rabbi recording Torah on vinyl disks? Please elaborate.

    By the way, I believe that a grandson of the Rabbi you mention, lives in Rockland county, NY, and publishes a newspaper called Yated Neeman.

    1. His lectures were produced on records, I have a few of them as well. This was decades before you had thousands of Rabbis' lectures distributed on tapes and cds.
      The publisher of the Yated is indeed his grandson. He has a grandson still living in the old age home in Fall River as well.

  4. Leading High Holiday sevices there the last couple of years, I was the last person to serve Adas Israel as rabbi. It's depressing.

    On the other hand, the children didn't leave the synagogue, they left Fall River. And went to more urban and thriving economies. Typically Boston or New York. Places with strong Jewish community. What Adas Israel accomplished moved on.

    To quote the last rabbi of the mythical village of Anatevka, near the end of the screenplay of Fiddler on the Roof:

    Motel: Rabbi, we've been waiting all our lives for the Messiah. Wouldn't now be a good time for Him to come?

    Rabbi: We'll have to wait for him someplace else. Meanwhile, let's start packing.

  5. Thank you very much for your post. I am a potential convert who attends Temple Beth-El on High Street in Fall River.

    There a couple of pieces of information that I wish to add. Fall River actually has three Jewish cemeteries. Beth-El has one by the Airport Road rotary in north Fall River. The Hebrew Cemetery (Orthodox) is on McMahon Street in south Fall River.

    The Agudas Achim Cemetery on Newhall Street is also Orthodox. It is on the southern boundary of a large Catholic cemetery, but is both separate and well-tended. I know the daughter of a man, Izzy Horvitz ~ a true Fall River legend, but that's another story ~ who was buried there within the last few years. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him.

    You do state that "the majority of the factory owners were Jews who hailed from NY." While I would be fascinated if this were true ~ and Jews are very under-represented in non-Jewish histories of Fall River ~ I think you will find that the mill-owning families tended to be Congregationalist Protestants, the Durfees and the Bordens among them.

    I admit that I good deal of my information about who owned the mills comes from being descended, on my mother's side, from the intermarried tangle of Congregationalists (and some Quakers) to whom I refer.

    Thank you again for your lovely article. Adas Israel observed the High Holy Days with the Beth-El congregation this year, for the first time. Beth-El itself is suddenly, wonderfully reinvigorated, under the leadership of Rabbi Mark Elber and his wife, Cantor Shoshana. I hope for good things!

    ~ Eugene B. O'Brien