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.

New Grant, New Faces

In 2012, the College of Charleston’s Special Collections Library was awarded a second CLIR grant to facilitate the processing of the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection. A previous CLIR grant allowed Special Collections to complete processing of Rabbi Rosenthall’s papers and begin efforts to digitize and provide metadata for prints, photographs, and postcards in the Judaica Collection. This new grant has allowed Special Collections to bring in two new archivists, Project Archivist Sarah Glover and Processing Archivist Amy Lazarus, to process Rabbi Rosenthall’s extraordinary collection of Judaica and oversee the continued digitization of items from the collection.

Later this week, we will introduce you to the three wonderful interns who are assisting us in this effort for the semester. But first, please meet our two archivists:


Project Archivist Sarah Glover

Sarah Glover joins the project as Project Archivist for the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection. Sarah earned her MS in Information with specializations in Archives and Records Management and Preservation of Information from the University of Michigan School of Information in 2012. She also holds undergraduate degrees in English, History, and Jewish Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sarah reads German and speaks and reads Hebrew.

Sarah has previously had the opportunity to work in academic archives and libraries, government archives, historical societies, and museums. She has gained valuable experience working at Jewish institutions such as the Museum at Eldridge Street, American Jewish Historical Society, and Leo Baeck Institute. Before coming to the College of Charleston, Sarah worked at the Leo Baeck Institute on the Institute’s DigiBaeck project, an effort to digitize the entirety of the Institute’s archival holdings. Sarah is excited to bring her background to the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection and thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such an incredible collection of Judaica!


Processing Archivist Amy Lazarus

Amy Lazarus is excited to join the project as the William A. Rosenthall Judaica Collection processing archivist. She received her MLIS with a specialization in Archives, Preservation and Records Management from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011 and holds a BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross. Over the past four years she has gained extensive processing experience in a variety of institutional settings. Her professional background includes positions at a research library, medical library, museum archives, and a government agency. Additionally, she is an active member of the Society of American Archivists currently involved in the Government Affairs Working Group.

As an undergraduate, Amy was awarded the Kraft-Hiatt Program for Jewish-Christian Understanding Fellowship to study abroad at Hebrew University. Upon her return she continued to take coursework related to Jewish history, developing an active interest in Jewish traditions. Her experiences as an undergraduate led to the ultimate goal of tying her academic interest in Judaism to her work as an archivist. Upon seeing the opportunity to work with such a valuable part of the College of Charleston’s Jewish Heritage Collection, she eagerly pursued the position of processing archivist. She is grateful for the amazing opportunity to encourage appreciation and understanding of Jewish culture through making the William A. Rosenthall collection available to scholars, students, and the general public.