Boston’s oldest Jewish cemetery to become immigrant center


(JTA) — The oldest Jewish cemetery in Boston is set to become a community center for the newest immigrants on the city’s east side.

The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts announced plans to convert Ohabei Shalom’s Gothic Revival burial chapel into the East Boston Immigration Center four years ago, according to The Times of Israel. Partnering with advocacy groups, JCAM is in the midst of a $2.5 million campaign to cover the restoration and retrofitting of the space.

The center plans to host citizenship and naturalization classes, along with English lessons, while offering guidance on operating a small business — reflecting the path previously followed by many of East Boston’s Italian, Irish and Jewish immigrants. A permanent exhibition will highlight East Boston’s Jewish heyday, providing the history of other once-large Jewish communities along the region’s Mystic River.

East Boston remains the city’s immigrant enclave, welcoming most of its recent newcomers from Colombia and El Salvador. According to JCAM officials, the center will assist some of the underserved neighborhood’s most vulnerable residents.

JCAM also hopes that the creation of the center may draw more local Jews to visit Ohabei Shalom.

“We hope this revitalized immigrant center will bring many Jews back to East Boston, where they can explore their heritage and their common experience with other immigrant groups,” JCAM Executive Director Stan Kaplan told The Times of Israel.

Although East Boston once maintained an active Jewish community, Ohabei Shalom is all that remains of this past.

“There will be an interactive exhibit hall dedicated to the neighborhood and the early Jewish communities of the Mystic River area, including East Boston, Chelsea and Revere,” Lisa Berenson of JCAM  said. “We’re going to make it a community resource center where people are going to come in and use it. It’ll be lively and interactive and boost the neighborhood.”

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