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New Book Chronicles History of Jews in Northampton

The year 2004 is not only the 350th anniversary of the founding of Northampton. It’s also the 350th anniversary of Jews in America.

So it’s fitting that a new book by Myron Peretz Glazer, the Barbara Richmond Professor in the Social Sciences, and his wife, Penina Migdal Glazer, the Marilyn Levin Professor of History at Hampshire College, ties together the simultaneous anniversaries with an engaging description of the history of Jewish settlers in the city.

The Jews of Paradise: Creating a Vibrant Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, documents the first arrival of Jews in Northampton, about 150 years ago, and follows the Jewish community’s expansion in town. The book was commissioned by the Northampton 350th anniversary celebration committee.

Throughout the 19th century, the local Jewish community steadily expanded, write the Glazers. By the 1930s, Jews owned clothing and shoe stores, and were operating hardware stores, groceries and butcher shops.

Smith College figures prominently in this history, the Glazers emphasize. From the earliest days when Jewish students joined the predominantly Protestant student body and attempted to make a place for themselves, to the more recent rich history of Jewish studies and the Jewish role in an active multicultural setting, Smith has played a central role in the history of the local Jewish community.

Several Smith people have played prominent roles in that history, including President William Allan Neilson, who led a mass rally in Northampton, along with Otto Kraushaar, professor of education, following the Kristallnacht attacks in Germany, in 1938. Neilson brought many Jewish refugee scholars and students to Smith during his tenure. Others, including Burns Chalmers, professor of religion and the first chaplain at Smith, made significant contributions in fighting against Nazi persecution.

The Jews of Paradise combines Smith’s history with that of the larger local Jewish community in the 20th century, highlighting a variety of events in which the college and townspeople joined to address the persecution of Soviet Jews. More recently, the book points out, several faculty members have played key roles in the local Jewish community. Among them are Martha Ackelsberg, professor of government, David Cohen, professor of math, Justin Cammy, assistant professor of Jewish studies, Lois Dubin, associate professor of religion, and Robert Dorit, associate professor of biological sciences.

The Glazers have combined efforts on several other books, including The Whistleblowers: Exposing Corruption in Government and Industry and The Environmental Cursaders: Confronting Disaster and Organizing Community. The Glazers are longstanding members of Congregation B’nai Israel.

The Jews Of Paradise is available for purchase at Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main St. Northampton; the Smith College Museum of Art book store; Grécourt Bookshop in the Campus Center; and at Forbes Library, West Street.

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