EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 12, 2008

Hadassah highlights Jewish history in Lawrence

By Yadira Betances

LAWRENCE — Jewish roots run deep in Lawrence.

Beginning in the 1870s, many Jewish families arrived in the city from Russia and Poland, soon becoming successful business owners and establishing synagogues and organizations.

Members of the Merrimack Valley chapter of Hadassah want to keep that history alive. The theme of the group's meeting tomorrow is "Rediscovering Our Roots in Lawrence."

"There's a whole rich history in Lawrence that people don't know about," said Sherry Comerchero, coordinator of the Merrimack Valley Jewish Coalition for Literacy. "It's important to look forward, but also to look back so we don't make the same mistakes as before."

At tomorrow's brunch at Salvatore's Restaurant, Louise Sandberg, director of the special collections department at Lawrence Public Library, will highlight the history of Jews who settled in Greater Lawrence, Haverhill and Lowell.

Methuen author Jay Atkinson also will speak on his book, "The City of Amber."

Hadassah members will honor Betty Landy, a retired social worker, for her many contributions to the Jewish and Lawrence community and Si Se Puede, an after-school program in the Hancock Court housing projects.

"The honor is long overdue," said Comerchero, of Landy, whose daughter Karen is a rabbi in Andover. She is the widow of Harold Landy, who owned Broadway Second Hand Store for many years.

The Merrimack Valley chapter of Hadassah has 600 members. It started in Lawrence in 1925 and recently merged with the Haverhill chapter. Although the Jewish community is declining, Linda Rosman Siegenthaler, said it is important to remember the history.

"This is for those who will come after us, so they know what their roots are," Siegenthaler said. "There will always be young people who are wondering what the city was like and they should know what our forefathers did."

Despite the decline, Comerchero said fellow Jews have not forgotten Lawrence by volunteering at schools or local organizations.

"This is something very important for all of us and we don't want to move away and forget it," Comerchero said.

Jews in Lawrence

The first Jewish arrivals settled in the Common, Valley, Concord and Lowell street area.

They started moving to the Tower Hill section in the 1920s.

They built Temple Emanuel and Congregation Tifereth Israel, both on Lowell Street and Jewish Community Center on Haverhill Street. The synagogues have since moved to Andover and the center is now owned by the city.

Jewish merchants specialized in dry goods and retail shops, including the finest men's clothing stores. Among them was Kaps, which opened in 1902 by Lithuanian native Elias Kapelson and Sandlers Department Store, operated by three brothers, who also came from Lithuania.

Congregation Ansha Sholum on Hampshire Street is the only synagogue in the city and one of the oldest in New England.