About Temple Israel, Athol, MA
Temple Israel Athol is a non-denominational egalitarian congregation that serves the community of the North Quabbin Region.
The synagogue offers a once-a month Shabbaton that features religious services Friday night, Saturday morning, and a Havdallah service on Saturday night. The Shabbatonim also include a Children’s Service on Shabbat morning, vegetarian potluck meals Friday night and Saturday lunch and Torah study. Religious services also take place at Temple Israel on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim, and Tisha B’Av.
Temple Israel also offers special educational programs for children and adults as well as community educational programs.
Temple Israel also offers a class in Hebrew for adults. To get more information or to register for this class, please call the Temple Office and leave a message. All calls will be returned.
Additional special programs take place at the synagogue during the year.
The rabbi at Temple Israel is available for family life cycle events such as weddings, funerals, and bar and bat mitzvah as well as pastoral counseling.
For more information, please watch our website or contact our office at (978) 249 – 9841. Leave a voice mail message and your call will be returned.
History of the Athol-OrangeJewish Community and Temple Israel
In the beginning came the peddlers. The earliest recorded, in the Athol Chronicle of 1871, was Julius Aishberg. Later came Esterman, Smargonsky, Rothschild, Michelman and Baker. Some settled in Athol, rented stores or bought farms.
One who made a lasting difference was Chaim Zack, who came to Athol in 1902 with a pack of pots and pans. Elke Zack's brother, Isaac Glaser, and his wife later arrived at Ellis Island from Ponidel, Lithuania, with year-old Sam, heeding a call from Elke: "Athol needs a Shohchet. Kumt." So Athol got its first Shohchet, unofficial Rabbi, gentle philosopher and beloved couple. A year later they begot Bertha, who has been secretary in Judge Rowe's office since 1936 and is still a member of Temple Israel. Their son Sam's widow, Florence, is also a member. When Isaac Glaser's brother Yankel settled in Athol, his grain supplier misunderstood his last name, and Yankel became Yankel Glazzin.
Soon an extended family collected in Athol. First were Chaim Zack's brothers, Joe and Harry, and Reuben and Eva Katz (Eva's mother and Chaim's mother were sisters). Reuben and Eva Katz's sons, Ed and Lou, are present-day members. Then came Barney and Ada Freedman (Mrs. Yankel Glazzin's sister). The Freedmans' children included Harry, who died in 1987, and whose widow, Lee, is still a member. Barney and Ada's daughter, Marie, married Joe Zack in 1912. It was the first wedding in our old shul. Joe and Marie begot Mildred, who married Sam Krupnick. Sam and Mildred have moved to Florida but often attend High Holiday Services in Athol with their sons, Arthur and Harvey. The Krupnicks brought to Athol Sam's sister, Molly, and Sam's brother, Carl. Sam Grossman's sister, Ann, married Ed Katz. And so it grew.
During the early years Isaac Glaser, who was known for his piety and kindness, acted as Rabbi. Louis Plotkin tells about one of Isaac's rulings:
"One year during Passover my cousin Izzy and I went to Boston to a Red Sox game. Even though we were just a couple of young kids, we couldn't eat chometz (non-Passover food). But to our dismay all the kosher restaurants were closed, so we bought some peanuts, and that was all we ate all day. When we got home and bragged about how careful we had been, we were told in no uncertain terms that peanuts are not allowed during Passover. You can imagine how bad we felt until Isaac Glaser told us, 'You have committed no sin whatsoever. In fact, you have performed a great mitzvah because you sincerely attempted to honor the law.'"
Louis, now 87 years old, concludes, "As long as I live never forget how proud Isaac Glaser made me feel."
Louis's father, Leievik Plotkin, because of his height and strength, had been selected during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 to be a member of the Tsar's guard. Although this was a unique honor for a Jew, Leivik was more concerned about keeping his Judaism than serving the Tsar. Leivik's father, Shiman Pesach, who remembered being Khapped as a 13-year-old boy and serving 18 years, urged his son to run off to America. As a good Chasid, Leivik sought the advice of his Rebbe. "If I escape to America, what will happen? How can I survive as a Jew in a traife land?"
"Gai," the Rebbe said. "A good Jew will be a good Jew wherever he goes."
Since he could borrow only enough to bribe his own way to the border, Leivick left his wife Chyene and their children, Louis and Lena (Gordon) in Ashipovich. Two sisters already in Boston had heard that Abraham Baker, a peddler in Athol, needed help. With the seven dollars a week Baker paid him, Leivik repaid his loan, rented a tenement on South Athol Road and bought his first furniture, a table and chairs at Higgins Furniture, for one dollar a week. The year was 1904.
Leivik borrowed more money, this time from the area's wealthiest man, Joe Rome of Gardner, and sent for his family. Soon after, Leivik's brother Jacob arrived in Athol with Nechame and the children, Izzy, Bill, and Rose. Then came brother Joe, whom this same Joe Rome introduced to the beautiful Bessie Arik. According to the Athol Transcript of June 10, 1906, "Joseph Plotkin of Athol was married to Miss Bessie Arik of Gardner at Rome's new block in Gardner last Tuesday and the affair was one of the most elegant and elaborate ever witnessed in that town. . . .3000 guests participated in a sumptuous banquet, dancing followed . . . . The bridal party left for a wedding journey to Washington."
Leivik and Chyene's children - Louis, Lena Gordon, Bessie Knapp, Melvin and Norman - and their daughter-in-law Jane are current members of Temple Israel. Jacob and Nechame's daughter, Rose Wishnow, their daughter-in-law Lillian, and their grandchildren Sherman, Charlie and Richard are members, as is their great-grandson Jeff. Joe and Bessie's children, Lillian and Charlie, and their daughter-in-law Min are also members.
Later, when Bessie's niece Dora Moskovitz was having a hard time making a living as a seamstress in Worcester, she and her husband, Israel, opened a dress shop on Crescent Street in Athol. They lived in the back, working from 6:00 a.m. to midnight while 4-year-old Charlie, now chairman of our finance committee, slept under the counter.
Another early settler, Jacob Garbose, had been learning the cobbler's trade with his father in Gardner. Just an ordinary young man, he felt fortunate to be married in 1906 to his cousin Sarah, a girl whose father was distinguished for his scholarship. Jake brought his bride to Athol and opened his own shoe repair shop. An ad in the February 10, 1906 New Church Record reads, "Boot and Shoe Repairing, rubber heels and taps put on at low prices. Jacob Garburz."
Over the years Jacob turned his shop into Athol's leading shoe store, bought the Capitol and York Theatres, the Fishman (Aubuchon) Block, the Woolworth (S & S) Building, the Pequoig Hotel, and (in partnership with Charlie Kumin) an inn, farms, and wood lots. He also sold the house at 411 Pine Street, which became our first synagogue, Agudas Achim, Congregation of Brothers. Charter members were Abraham Rothschil, Charlie Kumin, Louis (Leivik) Plotkin, Harry Zack, Jacob Lessem, Hyman Zack, Isaac Smargonsky, Samuel Nathanson, Isaac Glaser, Jacob Glazzin, Joab Garbose, Barnet Freedman, Reuben Katz, Samuel Esterman, Abraham Baker, Joseph Plotkin, Jacob Plotkin and Isaac Wolper.
The women of the congregation formed the Athol Hebrew Ladies' Aid Society. Led by Sarah Garbose, the first president, they catered refreshments for the opening celebration on March 27, 1911. Many years later Mrs. Garbose helped establish a Hadassah Chapter. Another family that took a strong leadership role in Hadassah as well as in The Ladies' Aid was the Housen family, including Syde (Mrs. David) Housen, her daughter, Joan Rose, and her daughter-in-law Marge. Ten years ago the Housens dedicated the Ophthalmologic Research Wing of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem .
By 1944, the Pine Street shul had become too small and was in need of major repairs. David Housen (of the Erving Paper Mill), Sid Ansin and Bill Garbose chaired various committees to raise $30,000 to build a new temple. Assisting were Sam Uchitel, Sam Krupnick, Dr. M.J.Grossman, Dr. Morris Diamond, Dr. Sam Footnick, Leo Wishnow, Harry Goldsher, Izzy Plotkin, Israel Moskovits and Louis Plotkin.
While the temple was being built, Rabbi Henry Ucko arranged with the Methodist Church for us to use its hall for services. Temple Israel (the original building is now the classrooms and social hall) was dedicated in June 1950. The master of ceremonies was Bill Garbose, taking over from his father, who had died only one month before.
As Athol-Orange's 33 Jewish war veterans returned home and established families, we again needed more space. Bill Garbose chaired the building committee, which also included David Housen, Dr. Norman Goldman, Jimmy Blum, Sam Krupnick and Bill Plotkin. On May 30, 1956, the new sanctuary was dedicated in memory of Sam and Rose Uchitel. Rabbi Ucko dedicated the Eternal Light in memory of his parents who had been murdered in concentration camps. Because the Uchitels' $40,000 bequest and their work had helped build the sanctuary, our congregation continues to say Kaddish for Sam and Rose every Rosh Hashanah, on the anniversary of Rose's death.
Rabbis who have led the congregation include Isaac Glaser, Louis Nathanson [father of Sarah (Mrs. Charles Kumin), Cohen, Darbuk (c. 1924), Pincus Cohen (c. 1925), Kramer (c. 1931-35), Yanosfsky (c. 1936-37), Shukovsky (c. 1937-39), Soloman Friedlander (1940-42), Solomon Seigel (1943-47), Henry Ucko (1949-56), Stanley Math (who fooled us all, 1957-58), Gilbert Elfant (1958-59), Irving Brenner (1959-62), Harry Lazaros (whose firmness, gentleness, and jokes made him our longest serving Rabbi, 1962-70), his son Jack Lazaros (now the Chasidic Rabbi in Framingham, 1970-71), Seymour Zahn (1971-73), Samuel Leib (1973-75) and, after a 10-year period of decline, Barry Krieger (1985-89 ), who brought us many new memberships.
Rabbi Robert Sternberg
Rabbi Robert Sternberg, the rabbi and spiritual advisor at Temple Israel Athol, is a graduate of Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, IL. He received his rabbinic ordination under the Chief Rabbinate of Israel at the Midrasha L’Rabbanut Machon Harry Fishel in Jerusalem, Israel. His undergraduate degree in education is from Roosvelt University in Chicago, IL and his graduate degree in education is from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Rabbi Sternberg served as director of the National Religious Affairs Department of Canadian Jewish Congress in Montreal. He was responsible for all interfaith and inter-group relations work for the Jewish community in Canada between 1978 and 1985. Subsequently, Rabbi Sternberg began a career in Holocaust Education. He served as director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center between 1985 and 1997. He currently is the Executive Director of Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center in Springfield, MA. as well as Temple Israel’s rabbi and spiritual advisor.
Rabbi Sternberg has taught courses at universities and colleges in Montreal, St, Louis, and Springfield, MA. including Holocaust History, Holocaust Literature, and Introduction to Judaism. He has also been a lecturer at Smith College of Social Work in Northampton, MA and served as the Bertha Reynolds Fellow at the school, facilitating workshops on managing diversity in the classroom.
Community Service, Publications, Awards
Since serving as director of Interreligious Affairs for Canadian Jewish Congress in 1978, Rabbi Sternberg has been actively involved in interfaith and intergroup relations. He currently serves on the Athol Interfaith Clergy Council, the Springfield Interfaith Clergy Council, and the Forest Park Clergy Council.
When in St. Louis, Rabbi Sternberg was a member of the St. Louis World Religions Dialogue and the St. Louis Christian/Jewish Dialogue. In Canada, he served as a member of the National Tripartite Liaison Committee (Canadian Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy in dialogue) and the Montreal Catholic/Jewish Dialogue.
Rabbi Sternberg has co-authored with Dr. David Oughton of Christian Brothers College High School in St. Louis, MO, Christian/Jewish Relations in Light of the Holocaust, the first curriculum on the Holocaust and its impact on Catholic/Jewish relations for Catholic high schools. The curriculum is published by Center of Learning Publishers.
Rabbi Sternberg has worked as a volunteer facilitator for A World of Difference, a prejudice reduction program created by the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League. In 1996, he was honored in St. Louis by A World of Difference for his service to the organization. Since 2003, Rabbi Sternberg has been a facilitator for Camp IF (InterFaith Youth), a special project of the Bnai Brith Anti-Defamation League that brings together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teens in dialogue to create understanding and tolerance.
Rabbi Sternberg’s avocation is cooking and he is certified as a chef by the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. He is the author of two Jewish cookbooks, Yiddish Cuisine: A Gourmet’s Approach to Jewish Cooking (Jason Aronson Publ.; Northvale, N.J.,; 1993) and The Sephardic Kitchen (Harper Collins Publ.; New York; 1996)
He speaks four languages in addition to English: Yiddish, Hebrew, French, and Spanish.
Contact the Rabbi via email - - rabbi@TempleIsraelAthol.org