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Posted by Jim Botticelli  September 12, 2013 12:14 PM

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Jewish memories in Boston
Most immigrants leave their homes for another place not for political reasons but for
economic ones. Although ancestors sometimes claimed a political motive, Jews
coming to America—from Colonial times to the present—generally came for economic opportunity, and this can be seen as well in the pattern of Jewish settlement in Massachusetts. Boston was the last of the major cities in this country’s early history that attracted Jews. Many sources say this was because they were not welcome here, but while this may have had a grain of truth, the primary reason falls to lack of economic opportunity. According to at least one historian, Boston was religiously intolerant and had a declining economy following the Revolutionary War.
Solomon Franco, reputedly the “first” Jew to come to Boston in 1649, soon returned to Europe. He was unable to sell his goods and therefore support himself. A small number of Jews followed with similar results. In the earlier to mid 20th Century many Jews lived in Boston, most notably Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester, those neighborhoods now called home by large populations of African Americans, Latinos and Haitians.
While most of the Jewish population moved out of the city during the Great Migration of African Americans northward, much of the Irish population stayed within city limits, due to the strength of the Catholic Parish. Traces of Boston's Jewish economic history can still be seen along stretches of Blue Hill Ave where ghosts of old storefronts are still visible. For another perspective on growing up Jewish in Boston, see Boston BoyNat Hentoff's memoir of growing up in the Roxbury section of Boston in the 1930s and 1940s. He grapples with Judaism and anti-Semitism. He develops a passion for outspoken journalism and First Amendment freedom of speech. And he discovers his love of jazz music as he follows, and is befriended by, the great jazz musicians of the day, including Duke Ellington and Lester Young among others. Thanks to Alexander Woodle for his article called Jewish History and Settlement Patterns in Massachusetts

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About the author

Jim Botticelli, a 1976 Northeastern University graduate, is a retired Boston Public Schools teacher. In college, he drove a cab and learned the city's cow paths. An avid collector of More »

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