Then & Now: Congregation Ohave Shalom synagogue in Gardner – The Gardner News

Posted By on April 28, 2020

GARDNER Where Congregation Ohave Shalom synagogue once stood is now a small park next to the Pleasant Street entrance to Workers Credit Union.

The credit union bought the building at 152 Pleasant St. in 2017, and had it demolished. There is a memorial in the park honoring the synagogue and the contributions to the city by its Jewish community.

When the building was torn down, it had long since ceased to be a synagogue. For a time it served as a venue for local bands as the Gardner Music Hall, but the building had fallen into disrepair.

Ohave Shalom was the city's first and only synagogue. It was built in 1912, just a few blocks from Gardner City Hall to serve the community's growing Jewish population.

The first families to arrive in the city chose to build lives in Gardner, rather than moving there for a job. The Cohens, Romes, Rosenbergs, Roses and others founded businesses and became major contributors to the community.

The early families came from Lithuania and Poland. In 1932, Rabbi Israel Silverstein was hired as the synagogue's first English-speaking ordained rabbi.

In 1958, Rabbi Samuel Freilich arrived in Gardner. He and his wife, Ella, were both survivors of the Holocaust. He was from Hungary and was held by the Nazis in slave labor and concentration camps, until he escaped to Austria in 1945. His wife was a survivor of the Auschwitz and Dachau death camps.

Rabbi Freilich served the synagogue from 1950 to 1958. After serving in Florida for three years, he returned to Gardner in 1961, and was rabbi there until his retirement in 1978.

The Freilich's daughter, Hadassah, married Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who served for many years in the U.S. Senate. When he was Al Gore's running mate for vice president in 2000, Hadassah visited Gardner with Tipper Gore, stopping by the synagogue.

The success of the city's Jewish residents and their children helped bring about the end of the synagogue. With many young people moving away to work in professional jobs elsewhere, the population dwindled to a few families.

When the synagogue was torn down, the large stained glass Star of David window was among several items removed and donated to the Gardner Historical Museum.

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Then & Now: Congregation Ohave Shalom synagogue in Gardner - The Gardner News

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