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More than 100 years of Jewish history comes down as demolition begins on Revere synagogue

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Ira Novoselsky, president of the Congregation Tifereth Israel Synagogue, was hugged by Anne Steinman after a brief ceremony to honor the history of the synagogue.

By Globe Staff 

REVERE — More than 100 years of Jewish history in Revere came to an end Tuesday at 9:04 a.m.

At that moment, an excavator crashed its arm through the roof of Congregation Tifereth Israel and began tearing apart the synagogue, which had stood at the corner of Shirley and Nahant avenues since 1912.

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“It’s a bittersweet moment,” said Nancy Goldstein, 69, a lifelong Revere resident who lives nearby. “I’ve been coming here since I was 5 years old.”

The temple stood in a once-thriving Jewish neighborhood filled with kosher butchers and bakeries. But as time passed, Jewish families moved out of Revere, and fewer and fewer people went to the synagogue, said Ira Novoselsky, 70, the congregation’s president.

Two years ago, temple leaders voted to suspend services because of dwindling attendance, he said. The congregation last held services on the high holidays in 2014.

“This would seat over 400, and the last time we held services, we were lucky to get 50 people in there,” said Bill Lipman, 75, who started attending the synagogue when he was 10 years old.

Now the site of the temple is poised for new life.

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A developer who bought the property plans to construct a building with 30 units of housing, with preference given to veterans, Novoselsky said. Commercial space is also planned, he said.

The project marks the first construction on Shirley Avenue since the 1960s when Myer’s Kosher Kitchen was built, Novoselsky said. The business has since closed.

“We’re going to do the right thing for the veterans,” said John Nakashian, manager for ARM Construction LLC, which is building the development. Construction is expected to be completed next fall.

Demolition began Tuesday morning, but not before a ceremony in which congregation members, neighbors, and city officials gathered to say farewell.

“Generations of Revere residents have proudly called our shul their synagogue,” Novoselsky, who is also a city councilor, said standing outside the fenced-off building. “We’ll always remember it.”

The congregation, he said, was established by Jewish immigrants from countries like Germany, Poland, and Russia who used to meet at a nearby corner store. In 1912, they purchased a Methodist church and transformed it into a synagogue, Novoselsky said.

Dismantling the temple was a painstaking process for Novoselsky and other congregants, who tried to find new homes for the most precious artifacts.

The ark that housed Torah scrolls was taken apart and presented to Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland.

Memorial boards, prayer shawls, and yarmulkes were given to a congregation in Portsmouth, N.H.

The Walnut Street Synagogue in Chelsea offered to display chandeliers, sconces and other items at its museum, Novoselsky said. A bible study group in East Boston as well as temples as far away as South America also received artifacts, he said.

When possible, the congregation returned memorial plaques to families of the deceased.

“We are all over the world and being remembered with those items,” Novoselsky said.

Janice Dumas, who lives nearby, said she helped to pack books and photographed artwork that couldn’t be salvaged.

“The whole time I was doing it I was wishing I could somehow save [the synagogue] and make it a shul again,” she said. “I’m still wishing I could make it an active part of the community again.”

Before the demolition began, the developers passed around plans for the new building and the crowd listened to speeches from Novoselsky and Mayor Brian Arrigo. As the excavator zeroed in on the temple’s roof, people snapped photos with their cellphones for posterity.

Rachid Moukhabir, president of Moroccan American Connections in Revere, wore a red fez in honor of the solemn occasion.

“We have been neighbors,” said Moukhabir, who is from the Moroccan city of Casablanca. “We know exactly how emotional it gets when it comes to demolishing a religious facility.”

Goldstein’s eyes were moist with tears as she looked at the excavator next to the dormant temple.

“My memories are here and here,” said Goldstein, motioning to her heart and head. “They can’t take that away or knock that down.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Nancy Goldstein was a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel of Revere.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.