This Place in History: Little Jerusalem

Vermont Historical Society

BURLINGTON, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History‘ we’re in Burlington, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re at George Little Park in the North End of Burlington, which was the center of a very vibrant immigrant community. We’ve asked Aaron Goldberg, one of the archivists at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue to come down here and give us a little more information on what we see around us,” introduced Perkins.

“In the 1880s through World War II, this area was known as Little Jerusalem because it was a concentrated area of Jewish immigrants. In Burlington, many of those immigrants came from a little village in Lithuania called Čekiškė,” explained Goldberg.

“The ground that we’re standing on was actually the spot of the Colodny grocery store, which was the first fully accessible grocery store where everything was sort of the ‘help yourself model’. Across from us, due east, was the original building of the then Orthodox Synagogue Ohavi Zedek from 1885 to 1952.”

“The second synagogue that is founded is this one across the street from us. This is the old Ahaveth Gerim Synagogue. This is founded in 1910. And there was also a third one here which was Chai Adam Synagogue. So, within a six building perspective, you have three synagogues.”

“What’s crucial here is that when the Jewish immigrants, and other immigrants, came here they often sought to be near other people of their same heritage. For Jews, that’s a requirement because you need people to pray with. You needed a Minyan, which was then ten men. These were all Orthodox Synagogues. You needed access to kosher food, meat and milk, groceries. You needed Hebrew schools,” said Goldberg.

“In our old Ohavi Zedek building, you can see that there’s a set of steps that has a flat wall and in front of those steps kids were playing games like marbles or other throwing games. After they’ve gone to their synagogue, the men are adjourning here to settle their disputes and arguments over the political affairs of the day on the steps of the Colodny’s market. And the children were often occupied by going just across the street that way to the candy store, which was literally right across the street.”

“This crosswalk used to be a street which crossed right through to Bright Street. Bright Street is also called ‘cow alley’. The reason for that is of course everyone had a cow and chickens.”

“In 1890, you start with 150 residents, of which 75% are peddlers. By 1910, you have 700 residents, but there’s been enormous economic growth in their community because those 700 residents only have 22% peddlers.”

“What’s really special about Little Jerusalem is that it has been widely accepted and there is documentation that has been done by sociologists who have found that the Burlington Jewish community was particularly well insular and was able to maintain its tradition, its culture, its behavior, its practices; and to be a Jewish village from Lithuania, which was literally transplanted into Burlington, Vermont,” concluded Goldberg.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic site markers, click here.

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