Wyner Archives

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Our History

Temple Israel of Boston is the second oldest congregation in the Boston area, and the largest Reform congregation in New England. The Wyner Archives of Temple Israel of Boston maintains and preserves the congregation’s historical records, including physical and electronic documents, publications, sound recordings, images, electronic records, and other items dating from Temple Israel’s founding in 1854 to the present. It serves as an important resource for staff, clergy, members, and a broad range of users, from people who want to learn more about their family history as well as researchers and scholars studying all aspects of Reform Jewish history, including synagogue life, Jewish practice, Boston’s Jewish community, the regional and national activities of our past clergy, and more. 

Archival Collections

Archival Collection List

Administrative Records

These records relate specifically to the administration of Temple Israel. They include but are not limited to correspondence, meeting minutes and reports, mailings and notices, brochures, finance reports, and supplemental photographic material. The collection includes:

  • Minutes of the Board of Trustees, December 1861-present
  • Annual and Special Congregational Meetings, 1942-present
  • Membership Committee, 1861-present (with gaps)
  • Temple Committee, 1944-1990
  • Bylaws/Legal Committee, 1923-present
  • Treasurer’s Reports, 1921-present
  • Fundraising/Development records, 1925-present (with gaps)
  • President and Executive Director papers, 1918-1994 (with gaps)
  • Membership files (for inactive members only)

Anniversaries Collection

This collection contains material related to important temple anniversaries, including planning records, publicity, programs, photographs, and so forth.

Audio, Audio-Visual, and Visual Collection

This collection contains audio and video recordings of temple services, rabbinic sermons, special events, and other functions/activities related to the temple, as well as a large amount of physical and digital visual material. Formats include: photographs, lantern slides, glass slides, magnetic tape recordings (cassette, VHS, reel to reel, etc.), vinyl records, and CDs/DVDs.

Biographical and Subject Files

The archives maintains informational files about the temple, American Judaism, Jewish Boston, and select congregants, staff, and clergy. The files include some correspondence, pamphlets, brochures, clippings, and other secondary sources.

Book Collection

This collection includes prayer books, books of sermons, books written by Temple Israel clergy and staff, and selected books written by temple members.

Buildings Collection

This collection contains records regarding the various buildings Temple Israel has owned and occupied over its 150-year-plus history. Material includes fundraising records, architectural and construction plans, deeds of ownership, maintenance records, and a significant collection of photographs for the following buildings:

  • Pleasant Street (1854-1885) (no plans or images)
  • Columbus Ave. (1885-1902)
  • Commonwealth Ave. (1907-1968)
  • Longwood Ave. (1928-present)

Cemetery Records

Temple Israel’s cemetery in Wakefield, Massachusetts, was founded in 1859. The archives contains a variety of records pertaining to this historic cemetery, including burial records, maps and plans, legal deeds, maintenance records, and photographs. It also contains the records of the temple’s cemetery committee and programs for the annual Memorial Day service.

Club and Committee Records

Temple Israel has always offered a variety of social and cultural activities and community service opportunities for its members, including, among others:

  • Women of Reform Judaism (formerly Sisterhood), 1920s-present
  • Brotherhood, 1949-1986
  • Social Action Committee, 1959-present
  • Israel Committee, 1959-1986
  • Garden Club, 1940s-1990s
  • Art Committee, 1900s-1980s
  • Couples Club, 1958-1984
  • College Club, 1959-1982
  • Music Committee, 1920s-present

Educational Programs

Temple Israel’s educational programs for both children and adults have been a central focus throughout the synagogue’s history. Documentation is incomplete, but includes material concerning the religious school curriculum; consecration, bar/bat mitzvah, confirmation, and graduation services; youth programs and activities; the PTA; the education committee; and the nursery school. A large amount of material is also available regarding the temple’s continuing/lifelong education programs, lecture series, and library.

  • Education committee, 1948-1963
  • Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center, 1989-present
  • Religious School, 1870s-present (bulk 1950s-1980s)
  • Parent/Teacher Association, 1950s-1980s
  • Confirmation, 1950s-present
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah, 1950s-present
  • Continuing Education Committee, 1920s-present
  • Youth programs (youth committee, RYFTI, NEFTY, FASTY), 1930s-present
  • Library and Library Committee, 1940-present
  • Adult Education Committee, 1940-present
  • Temple Israel Lifelong Learning Initiative (TILLI), 2009-present
  • Samuel Nemzoff Papers, 1942-1974

Holidays and Festivals Collection

This collection contains material related to various holidays and festivals, including but not limited to Passover, Purim, and High Holidays. Material includes programs; prayer books; pamphlets, brochures, and other printed material; and photographs.

Life Cycle Records

These include records of births, baby naming, bar/bat mitzvah, marriages, and deaths, all generated by the rabbinic staff.

Oral History Collection

This collection includes audio recordings and some transcripts of oral history interviews with various temple clergy, staff, lay leaders, and congregants from the 1970s through the present day. It also includes material from the “Women Whose Lives Spanned the Century” oral history project.

Print Collection

The Archives contains a large collection of prints documenting congregational life at Temple Israel from the 1870s. Included are portraits of significant clergy, administrators, and congregants; photographs of special events and holidays in the temple and religious school; and prints of the temple’s various buildings.

Publications Collection

The Archives holds numerous publications produced by Temple Israel administrators, clubs and committees, the religious school, and congregants, including:

  • Histories of Temple Israel and affiliated groups
  • Temple Israel Bulletin, 1907-present
  • “Friday Night Handouts,” 1981-present
  • Religious service programs
  • Torchbearer (religious school yearbook), 1947-1972
  • Confirmation, Post-Confirmation, Hebrew School, and Graduation service programs, 1900-present
  • Annual reports, catalogs, and promotional literature (pamphlets, brochures, programs)

Rabbinical Collections

The Archives contains records from many members of the clergy generated during their time at Temple Israel. The collection includes biographical sketches in the vertical files, miscellaneous documents, or published books. There are also photographs of rabbis in the portrait files. In certain cases, we hold more extensive material that documents some rabbis’ personal lives and professional careers outside of the temple. Here are some highlights for the senior rabbis:

Joseph Sachs (1854-1856): portraits; biographical file

Joseph Shoninger (1856-1874): portraits; biographical file

Solomon Schindler (1874-1894): portraits; photographs (including family album); some correspondence, sermons, and other documents; Messianic Expectations (1886); biographical file; (also see manuscript collection at American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati)

Charles Fleischer (1894-1911): portraits; correspondence; installation materials; biographical file

Harry Levi (1911-1939): portraits; audio recordings; correspondence; reports to board; sermons and speeches; life cycle records (marriages 1911-1913, deaths 1911-1913, confirmations 1912-1953); clippings, history of TI under his rabbinate, anniversary booklet, A Great Adventure and A Rabbi Speaks (books of sermons); obituary; prayer books; biographical file

Joshua Loth Liebman (1939-1948): portraits; audio recordings; correspondence; sermons; materials related to the book Peace of Mind (1946); memorial tributes; life cycle records (weddings and funerals); 1988 museum exhibit materials; biographical file; (larger manuscript collection at Boston University Archives)

Abraham J. Klausner (1949-1953): portraits; audio recordings; sermons; clippings; correspondence; reports to board; life cycle records; installation materials; biographical file

Roland B. Gittelsohn (1953-1977): portraits; photographs; audio recordings; sermons; memos and reports; life cycle records; biographical file; (also see manuscript collection at American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati)

Bernard H. Mehlman (1977-1999): portraits; photographs; audio and audio-visual recordings; correspondence; sermons; reports; life cycle records; biographical files; (also see manuscript collection at American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati)

Ronne Friedman (1999-2016): Portraits; photographs; audio and audio-visual recordings; correspondence; day files; life cycle records; education director materials; biographical file

Elaine S. Zecher (2016-): portraits; photographs; audio recordings; correspondence; sermons; reports; day files; life cycle records; biographical file

In addition, we have many materials for the following Assistant Rabbis and Cantors:

Assistant Rabbis:

Samuel Wolk (1923-1929)

Beryl D. Cohon (1930-1939)

Leo A. Bergman (1940-1942)

Albert A. Goldman (1946-1948)

Irving A. Mandel (1948-1950)

Earl A. Grollman (1950-1951)

Maurice L. Zigmund (1951-1954)

Leon A. Jick (1954-1957)

Robert W. Shapiro (1957-1960

Charles A. Kroloff (1960-1963)

Harvey J. Fields (1963-1968)

Frank M. Waldorf (1968-1971)

Paul J. Menitoff (1970-1973)

Paul J. Citrin (1947-1978)

Jeffrey Perry-Marx (1983-1985)

William L. Berkowitz (1985-1990)

Ruth Alpers (1994-1999)

Jonah D. Pesner (1999-2006)

Jeremy Morrison (2001-2015)

Stephanie D. Kolin (2006-2010)

Matthew Soffer (2010-2019)

Jen Gubitz (2016-2021)

Cantors:

Herbert Fromm (1941-1972)

Murray Simon (1972-1983)

Roy Einhorn (1983-2020)

We have manuscripts and personal papers, correspondence, meeting minutes, bulletins, religious school yearbooks, photographs and digital images, audio and audiovisual recordings, scrapbooks, and memorabilia in our archives. In addition to institutional records produced by the administration, clergy, and staff, we have collections from the religious school, preschool, committees, synagogue members, lay leaders, the Riverway Project, the Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center, and other auxiliary organizations. 

We also collect the personal papers and memories of past and present temple members. If you would like to donate items that we collect or memories that you would like to share, please email archives@tisrael.org.

Research Projects

Most of the material in the Wyner Archives documents the administrative history of Temple Israel, its affiliated clubs and committees, and the congregational life of members. Past researchers have used the archives for research on a variety of topics including changes in Jewish rituals and music, projects on past members of the clergy, synagogue architecture, Jewish education, art, music, interfaith relations, local history, and more.  

Manuscripts, minutes, published and printed material, photographs, scrapbooks, audiovisual recordings, vertical files, memorabilia, and other material illustrate the ways the temple has changed and grown, as well as the traditions it has maintained. While the earliest records date from the 1850s, most items are from 1900 to the present.

Researcher Packet

Researching Your Family History

We have several kinds of records that might be useful for genealogists and others interested in their family history. Some membership and cemetery records go back to the nineteenth century, but most existing life cycle records date from the 1940s forward. Because most of these were kept by the clergy members who performed the ceremony (baby-naming, bar or bat mitzvah, marriage, funeral etc.), please include as much information as possible to help expedite your search when inquiring.

Past Voices of Temple Israel: Audio Recordings

Thanks to a “Recordings at Risk” grant from the Council on Libraries and Information Resources, the Temple Israel of Boston’s Wyner Archives has digitized almost 200 fragile tapes and records that contain several hundred recordings dating from 1934 to 1979, a period when Reform Judaism was profoundly transformed by world events and changes in American society. These recordings include worship services with sermons, radio and television programs (audio only), lectures, and other programs and community events that provide a unique window into congregational life. Most of them feature prominent Temple Israel rabbis Joshua Loth Liebman (1939-1948), and Roland B. Gittelsohn (1959-1977); other speakers include congregants and other Jewish and non-Jewish religious leaders.

The recordings reveal Jewish perspectives on important contemporary issues over time—Zionism, antisemitism, the Holocaust and its effect on mental health, post-war America, McCarthyism, conformity, marriage, parenting, and work, intermarriage, prejudice and racism, and more—and the added effect of sound enables listeners to experience the tone and context of past events in a multi-sensory way rather than just reading about them.

Beyond the Wyner Archives

Interested in knowing where you might find more information about Temple Israel, its clergy and members, or other aspects of the Boston Jewish community? Here’s a short list to get you started:


Academic Guide to Jewish History

Jewish archival materials from around the world


American Jewish Archives

Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn papers, Conversion certificates and much more


Boston Public Library, Main Branch and Research Library

Genealogical material, city directories, newspapers, maps and much more


Boston University Special Collections

Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman Papers and much more


JewishGen

the Global Home for Jewish Genealogy


Jewish Women’s Archive

Much material, including oral histories, about present and past Jewish women, including some Temple Israel members, and much more


Massachusetts State Archives

Older marriage, and death records, census records, town histories and much more


National Archives and Record Administration, Boston Federal Records Center

Birth, marriage, and records, census records, immigration and naturalization records


Temple Ohabei Shalom

Predecessor of Temple Israel of Boston


The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society

Boston Jewish community and institutional records, genealogical materials, census records, birth, marriage, and death records, immigration and naturalization indexes and much more


Newspapers:

Articles and obituaries; available online and on microfilm at the Boston Public Library and other libraries 

  • Jewish Newspapers: [Boston] Jewish Advocate, 1905-present
  • Other Newspapers: The Boston Globe [digitized from 1874]; Boston Herald; Boston Traveler; Boston Post; New York Times

For more resources, see the bibliography to Meaghan Dwyer-Ryan, Susan L. Porter, and Lisa Fagin Davis, Becoming American Jews: Temple Israel of Boston (Brandeis University Press, 2009).

Becoming American Jews book cover
Want to learn more?

Becoming American Jews: Temple Israel of Boston, Brandeis University Press, 2009 Tagline: “An important contribution to the historical record of the development of American Jewish life.” Review, Journal of Urban History, 2015

Temple Israel of Boston has long occupied an important position in the region and in American Jewish life. The illustrated book, Becoming American Jews: Temple Israel of Boston, uses archival documents, demographic data, and oral histories to explain how Temple Israel of Boston, founded in 1854, became the first Reform synagogue in New England and how the congregation continually adapted to changes in American society by balancing members’ desires for innovation with tradition and acculturation with distinctiveness. It brings to life both the stories of the men, women, and children who built and maintained this vital institution and the larger story of the transformations in religious worship practices, education, and social justice that define American Reform Judaism today.

How to Get the Book:

You can order Becoming American Jews directly from Temple Israel. It can also be purchased from Brandeis University Press and other online booksellers.

Connect with Us
617-566-3960 archives@tisrael.org

Archive Images