The Walnut Street Shul in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Rabbi Avigdor Miller's first rabbinic position (continued)
In 1887, Jews gathered in the home of Monas Berlin to daven on shabbosos and yamim tovim. In time the minyan moved to new quarters. It was called Congregation Ohabei Sholom. By 1901 the growing congregation had enough funds to purchase a property at the corner of Walnut and Fourth Streets, which was to become the site of the Walnut Street Shul. In the early 1900s Congregation Ohabei Shalom merged with another group under the name Congregation Agudas Sholom.
This became the largest congregation in Chelsea, and a new shul building on the Walnut Street site was almost completed when it was destroyed by fire in 1908. The destroyed building was rebuilt from a design by non-Jewish architect Harry Dustin Joll, in 1909. The magnificent structure was sometimes called the “Queen of Synagogues” and is believed to have been the largest shul in New England at the time.
In the bylaws of 1909, the founding members declared that, “The organization shall carry the name of ‘Congregation Agudas Sholom of Chelsea, Massachusetts’ and shall be conducted as strictly Orthodox. The congregation shall consist of a school for learning, a shul for prayer, and everything shall be carried out strictly under the requirements of the Jewish religion and under the strict Jewish laws and customs as govern other Orthodox congregations — and this paragraph shall not be changed so long as there are seven members in good standing who are satisfied to support the charter of this congregation.”
The ground floor of the shul contains a kitchen and two batei medrash (study rooms), a smaller one that was used for daily davening and a larger one, where Shabbas services usually took place. The men’s section of the main shul is one flight up. The aron of the main shul stands 37.5 feet high and is made of solid oak with carvings of animals and symbols from the Torah.
The women’s gallery is located on the third floor, with a seating capacity nearly equal to that of the men’s section downstairs. Together, the men’s and ladies’ sections on the second and third floors can seat 1,109 people. The ceiling is decorated with a fresco of the sky with a sunrise at the east end, and over the women’s section is a painting of kever Rachel. Over the aron is a trompe l’oeil-curtained niche supported by Corinthian columns and decorated with symbols from the Beis Hamikdash. The large main shul was used primarily during the yamim tovim and yamim nora’im. Photographs can give a general impression of the grandeur of this imposing structure, but they cannot do it justice.
Reprinted from Hamodia with permission. Photos (c) Barry M. Miller/BeshertPhoto.com