Centennial / History

CONGREGATION AGUDATH ACHIM
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

Welcome to Congregation Agudath Achim, a progressive, independent congregation serving the Greater Taunton community.

We celebrated 100 years as a congregation during 2011-2012, but Taunton has had a vibrant Jewish community for more than this 100 years – it dates back to the 1880’s with the earliest known Jewish resident being Moses Goldstein, arriving in 1883 from Russia.  He was joined by his brothers, Simon and Levi, in the late 1880’s, establishing a dry goods and clothing store in the Whittenton section of Taunton.  Even today the Goldstein name is well known in the city.

In 1905, the Taunton Hebrew Fraternal Association was formed.  The purpose was “to establish a synagogue for the Hebrews of Taunton and to establish a cemetery.”  The cemetery was the priority as Jews can pray alone three times a day and seek a quorum of ten (minyan) to participate in memorial anniversary services in any building, but they needed a Jewish place to bury their dead.  Mt. Nebo Cemetery was established in 1907.

In the early years, Taunton’s Jewish community came together, forming a ‘minyan’ or quorum, for prayers in a variety of establishments from individual people’s homes to the Polish Hall on Bay Street to the Eagles Hall in what was Galligan’s Block (later the Jones Block).  As the Jewish community grew, it soon became evident that a building, a synagogue (from the Greek word for a gathering),  of their own was needed.

Congregation Agudath Achim was officially formed in approximately 1910-11. “Agudath Achim” in Hebrew literally means “Assembly of Brothers.” The English equivalent is “Fraternal Organization.”

There are many congregations from this era across the United States named either Agudath Achim or Agudas Achim.  The names are the same, just a variation in pronunciation.  Some people confuse us with Agudas Achim in Attleboro, MA, which was founded at almost the same time.

The first officers of Congregation Agudath Achim were William J. Dana, Louis Berman, Louis Swig, Louis J. Antine, and Wulf Grossman.  The building of a synagogue was the first order of business.

The cornerstone of the synagogue at 36 Winthrop Street was laid July 13, 1913 amid much celebration.  The Torah (scroll of the five books of Moses) was carried from Eagles Hall while Hearn’s Orchestra played.  The list of those among the Jewish community present for this occasion includes over 30 families with names such as Antine, Berman, Goldstein, Bernstein, Swig, Immerman, Baron, Cohen, Ashapa, Dovner, Ellis, Assiran, Block, Ruboy, Wells, Tanenbaum, Stone, Kaplan, Friedman and more.

The synagogue began as an Orthodox house of worship, with women sitting upstairs.  The Bimah is in the front of the sanctuary, always facing East toward Jerusalem.  The Ark is behind the curtain; this is where our sacred Torah’s are kept.

In the mid-1950’s the congregation purchased a house at 133 High Street, renovated it and added a large social hall with kitchen and a front lobby.  Our offices, religious school and large social functions take place in this building – The Jewish Community House.

Our community owes a great debt of gratitude to long-time member Shoshanah Garshick for diligently gathering and then writing our community’s history on the occasion of our 75th anniversary celebration.  Kathy Novick updated it more recently. The above is an excerpt prepared by Mija Almeida.  This fuller work will be posted at a later date, in PDF format.

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