Vilna Shul

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Vilna Shul
Vilna Shul, Boston MA.jpg
Basic information

18 Phillips Street

Boston, Massachusetts
Geographic coordinates 42°21′36″N 71°04′02″W / 42.36000°N 71.06722°W / 42.36000; -71.06722
Affiliation Orthodox Judaism
Rite Nusach Ashkenaz
State Massachusetts
Status Museum
Architectural description
Architectural type Synagogue
Completed 1919

The Vilna Shul is a synagogue in Boston, Massachusetts built for an Orthodox congregation in 1919 by immigrants primarily from Vilna, Lithuania. The building stands on what is known as the back side of Beacon Hill. The front of the hill has always been filled with stately homes and faces the Boston Common. The back of the hill was the early residence of Boston's black community and, later, of a series of immigrant communities. In the first half of the 20th century, there were several immigrant synagogues in this area. By the 1980s, the Jewish community had almost entirely left the neighborhood and the shul was all but abandoned. An argument broke about whether the synagogue should be sold and the proceeds given to another congregation, turned into a community center for the residents of the neighborhood, or preserved as a monument or museum to the immigrant generations of Jews.[1]

The synagogue was designed by Boston architect Max Kalman,[2] [3] but the Shul is not noteworthy for its architecture, according to Stanley Smith, then executive director of Historic Boston Inc., a nonprofit group that recommended preserving the old synagogue. It's not high style, not one of the great monuments of architecture that you would travel miles to see. It's like many of the early meetinghouses and churches that are highly representative of the immigrants who built them.[1][4] According to the American Jewish Historical Society, there is "no record of any important event ever taking place at that congregation," which was one of many modest synagogues built by Jewish immigrants.[1] The Vilna Shul was, however, the last of the purpose-built immigrant synagogues still standing in downtown Boston at the end of the 20th century. The Vilna Center for Jewish Heritage was founded to raise funds to preserve and restore the synagogue for use as a Jewish cultural heritage center.[5]

Three million dollars were spent on the architectural restoration of the synagogue building, which now houses a small exhibit on the history of the synagogue and of the Boston Jewish community.[6] The building, opened daily by the Boston Center for Jewish Heritage, is a regular part of the Beacon Hill tourist circuit. It is also once again a house of worship in active use as the home of Havurah on the Hill.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Deserted Synagogue of 1919 Sets Off Boston Tug-of-War, By CONSTANCE L. HAYS, NEW YORK TIMES, December 21, 1989 [1]
  2. ^ misprinted as David Kalman in Boston A to Z - Page 335 by Thomas H. O'Connor, Harvard University Press, 2000 -, p. 335
  3. ^
  4. ^ Synagogue Architecture in America: Faith, Spirit & Identity by Henry Stolzman, Daniel Stolzman University of Michigan Press, p. 143
  5. ^ Bit of Boston's Jewish Pride Is Revived, by GUSTAV NIEBUHR , New York Times, December 1, 1996 [2]
  6. ^ Center preserves Jewish history, By Gary Band - The Jewish Advocate, March 3, 2008
  7. ^ The Vilna Shul

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′36″N 71°04′02″W / 42.36000°N 71.06722°W / 42.36000; -71.06722