Rare Find: New Shaarai Thora Synagogue, Worcester, MA

While processing Rabbi William A. Rosenthall’s extensive collection of postcards, Processing Archivist Amy Lazarus came across a postcard with a photograph of a synagogue in her hometown of Worcester, MA. Being unfamiliar with the synagogue, Amy talked to her family and researched online to find out more about the synagogue, its history, and its significance for the Jewish community of Worcester. Below, Amy shares what she discovered.

Recently, I had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand the value of Rabbi Rosenthall’s impressive postcard collection. While processing, I came across an image of a synagogue in my hometown of Worcester, MA. Not recognizing the building, labeled New Shaarai Thora Synagogue I asked my father if he knew where the synagogue was located.

My father informed me the photograph might be a rare image, as that particular synagogue had been badly damaged due to an arson-related fire and had long been out of use as a synagogue. He then shared a surprising story: my great grandfather had actually been one of the one of the early congregants of the synagogue!

This, of course, prompted me to begin researching the synagogue to learn more. And soon the value of the Rosenthall Collection became even more apparent.

I found that the synagogue had actually been Worcester’s first Modern Orthodox synagogue and a significant part of the city’s Jewish history. Unfortunately, the building had been remodeled and converted to condominiums after the fire. While the building still stands, I could find no pictures of it prior to this conversion online.

While I could easily locate another building in use today as the Shaarai Torah Synagogue in Worcester, I could find no photograph of the building on the postcard in the Rosenthall collection.

Eventually, I learned that the synagogue I did keep finding was a second Shaarai Torah synagogue that was opened on the west side of the city. This became known as Shaarai Torah West, with the original synagogue known as Shaarai Torah East. Shaarai Torah West became an independent congregation in 1964, and Shaarai Torah East continued to operate until it was the last remaining synagogue on the East side of the city.

The synagogue on the postcard was Shaarai Torah East, the first of the two buildings, which opened its doors in 1906. The synagogue served the community of Worcester for an entire century, until the devastating fire forced it to close its doors as the last synagogue on the east side. Despite its role as a prominent synagogue in the history of Worcester’s Jewish community, today its only online presence is a lone Wikipedia article which features the remodeled building as condominiums.

It appeared I was holding one of what may be only a few photos of the Shaarai Torah east prior to remodeling. If not for Rabbi Rosenthall’s collection, the ability to easily see the original Shaarai Torah synagogue, Worcester’s very last east side synagogue, might have been lost.

This experience served incredibly well to demonstrate just how valuable the collection will be to researchers and to preserving the history of Jewish communities all over the world.

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