Congregation Beth Israel
The first group of Jewish immigrants came to North Adams in 1867, but there are no written records of their religious activities. Newspaper accounts do suggest that Jewish High Holiday services started as early as 1888. The first synagogue was built in 1894 on Francis Street in North Adams, and was called the House of Israel. Then, on January 1st, 1901, a Jewish group known as the United Brothers continued working to develop an organized Jewish community by building a cemetery on Meadow Street. The property was purchased from Henry J. Arnold for $250.
By 1905, another group established another congregation which was named Chevra Chai Odom and was represented by Hyman S. Katsch. The Chevra Chai Odom congregation bought a home on Ashland Street for $2,800 and created a synagogue which remained active until the early 1960s. In the early years, Jewish women were not considered to be members of the congregations or synagogues. The women of the House of Israel formed the Daughters of Israel Aid Society in 1897 as a method of providing social outlets and care for the Jewish community of North Adams. The Daughters of Israel Aid Society’s first president was Sarah Cohen, and the group contributed to national charities.
The Jewish community of North Adams continued to grow; in October 1914 the House of Israel held a celebration for the entire community of North Adams marking the completion of the Mohawk Trail at Hoosac Valley Park. This event became called the Community Pageant, and the Jewish community gave an illustration of the presentation of the Ten Commandments to Moses and the Ten Tribes of Israel. The Jewish congregations in North Adams eventually merged, calling many locations home. In 1920, the congregation purchased the Bijou Theatre on Center Street from Guglielmo Lattanzi for $25,000. This building became the Hebrew Community Building. When a fire in 1931 damaged the Community building, the city of North Adams offered the auditorium at Drury High School to the Jewish community for their High Holiday services.
The construction of a Route 2 bypass through North Adams in the late 1950s meant that the thriving congregation was forced to move, merging with Chevra Chai Odom and joining in worship on Ashland Street.
On October 25, 1961, the congregation changed its name to Congregation Beth Israel by a unanimous vote and the Ashland Street building took on a new use, holding the bodies of those who had passed. A new synagogue was established on Church Street where activities such as funeral services and Hebrew school classes were held. The Social Hall of the Church Street Synagogue was used for purim parties and model seders.
In 1998, this synagogue was purchased by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Today, Congregation Beth Israel is located at 53 Lois Street in North Adams, where a smaller synagogue was built following the Church Street sale.