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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Growing up in Chelsea

When I think of Chelsea I think of my childhood. Although I didn't grow up there, my dad did lots of work for Chelsea Industries and we went often to visit our cousins who lived there. I remember the industrial center the best, with the shmattah dealers and the cobblestone streets.

Sally K grew up in Chelsea, this city of immigrants and a Jewish hub in the 20th century. I asked Sally to write this and to reflect growing up in Chelsea. What does she recall from that time? What was it like to grow up in a city with twelve synagogues and a city of immigrants in the post World War 2 era? I am grateful for Sally's essay. She speaks about the importance of community supporting each other as everyone slowly adjusts to life in a new land. Thank you so much, Sally......

A small city north of Boston was home to immigrants and working class people and emerging business owners and a few wealthy families. That was the key to Chelsea, family. Most families lived in double or triple decker apartment buildings and others spread out. There were several churches and synagogues as well and many lived near their places of worship.

I came to Chelsea at three years old. My parents (ZTL), Holocaust survivors were brought over to the US by my father’s sister and she and her family lived in Chelsea. My father worked for my aunt’s brother in law. There were so many immigrants from many countries, languages, customs. Somehow everyone respected one another.

I remember an Armenian family who lived across the street and the grandmother took care of the children while the mother and father worked and my mother somehow arranged that she should know I was alone in the house while she went to work. Remember the Armenian grandmother spoke only Armenian and my mother spoke Yiddish!

In those days all of us played outside. The little boys ran around, the girls had their dolls, and games, and the older ones played hide go seek or dodge ball or whatever came into their heads. We played from morning till lunch and then till our parents came home. We waited for our parents to call us in and that was the end of the day unless it was summer and we came out again till it got dark.

In the bad weather we just stayed in. Since I was an only child , went in to visit with another girl. I think our parents arranged this because I only went to visit in that one house.

The holidays were something else. For the Jewish High Holidays it was amazing. It seemed the whole city prepared. The bakeries made the special round raisin Challes and all the treats!

Chanukah and Christmas often come near one another but Chanukah is a much smaller historical holiday and didn’t have the same clout. We lit candles and got small gifts and sometimes money. We participated in the Holiday or Winter Concert and many times a Chanukah song was included in school. Many of us sang the beautiful Christmas carols as well. We learned Christmas was a wonderful holiday but not ours.

Growing up in Chelsea gave us a sense of security and respect and responsibility for others. Neighbors from different countries and cultures learned English together in night schools. My parents met many people who became friends.

As the years went on, people became citizens, started businesses of their own and moved away. Many moved north to Peabody, west to Brookline and some moved to join family wherever they landed. We learned English in Chelsea, learned about being an American. My parents and many like them had a serious love for this country. They taught us how important it was to vote, to become good citizens and care for the US.

Sally's mother making potato latkes.

Sally and her parents at a Passover Seder.

For more information on Chelsea:[gallery-rw-1]/14 FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE WALNUT STREET SHUL

Sally K was born in Munich, Germany after the war and came to the US when she was a 3 years old. Sally attended o public schools and Hebrew Schools. Her family moved to Brookline where she attended high school and the Prozdor of Hebrew Teachers College.

Sally graduated Boston State Teachers College and Northeastern University with a Masters in Education with a minor Remedial Reading. She married after College and started a family.

Sally taught at Hebrew Schools and took courses in administration and worked with several Jewish organizations. She and her husband enjoy traveling, being with their grandchildren and friends. She continues to write about her parent's experiences during the Holocaust.

These days she concentrates on staying healthy.

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