|THE EXTERIOR OF CONGREGATION ADAS ISRAEL, FALL RIVER MASS.|
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.”