To the Editor:
Years ago, I was the executive director of the Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture. In that role, I gave many tours of this historic property, and people would often ask where I lived. I would say Hull, home of Nantasket Beach. Invariably, people would respond by recalling their own great memories of Nantasket Beach.
I began to wonder about the larger story of Nantasket that gave rise to these happy memories, and that curiosity gave rise, over 10 years ago, to a project I called “The Jews of Nantasket.” In 2014, I delivered a speech at Temple Israel of Nantasket based on my initial research, and so the story of our wonderful history had begun to be written. (The text of that speech is available on the Temple Israel website.)
My research showed that Hull possessed a long history of welcoming strangers to this little peninsula, be it a Quaker woman with no home, a French sailor, or the Greeks, Italians, Irish, and Jews who came here in the 1800s to breathe the wonderful sea air, bathe in our cool waters, and build a diverse and accepting community.
For the Jews, this meant the building of Temple Israel, then the Nantasket Youth Center, and finally Temple Beth Sholom. Temple Israel provided a unique place for the Jewish community, as even those who did not pray together other times of the year prayed together here during the summer months. They prayed together, and they built a strong community here. My own family has been on T street for five generations of Appelsteins, Veaners, and Greenbergs.
Aug. 28 is the 100-year anniversary of the dedication of this house of prayer. It is a place that has been kind and welcoming not only to Jews but to others who have come. But the story of how this all happened has never really been compiled. We need to gather the information, the records, the stories, and the memories of this wonderful place so that our children’s children will understand how all that we most treasure came to pass. How does a group of recent immigrants build this magnificent building? How did the community organize itself? Who were the leaders, the scholars, the members who kept this building and this community alive? Most importantly, who are the descendants of these people who came and prayed and built a community together – a community that to this very day is a source of pride to its members and to all of Hull. As the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it: “We are what we remember.”
It is vital to the future of Nantasket’s Jewish community – and to Nantasket as a whole – that we remember the story of our families here in Hull, for memory provides connection from past generations to future generations, and connection is vital to our humanity.
Steven M. Greenberg