Selma Finstein

b. 1910

Selma Finstein was born in the early part of the 20th century in Roslindale. Her family was one of only two Jewish families in the area.  When she became a teenager and started dating non-Jewish boys, her family moved out of the town.  She met and married Joey Finstein, and they eventually had one son.  Although admitted to Radcliffe, she attended Boston Teacher’s College for financial reasons and after five years received her Master’s Degree. She worked at the Boston Public Library and as a teacher at Temple Israel.  In fact, the interviewer, Betsy Friedman Abrams, was a former pupil.  Later, Selma would go on to run the Wien Scholarship Program at Brandeis University. After retiring from Brandeis, Selma stayed active by writing the program notes from the New Philharmonia Orchestra and the Newton Symphony. Temple Israel played a large part in Selma’s life from the time she was 12 or 13 years old. In addition to teaching there, she also helped run the Torch Bearer newsletter about education at the Temple and served as secretary to Rabbi Jick and as assistant editor of the Temple Bulletin.  Selma remembers being particularly inspired by Rabbi Gittelsohn and Rabbi Liebman.  


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Selma discusses her family background and growing up in Roslindale as one of only two Jewish families in the area and at her public school.  Selma’s grandmother was more observant of Judaism than her immediate family.  Selma talks about her involvement in Temple Israel since she was a teenager; she attended Sunday School there and was confirmed there in 1929.  After high school graduation, Selma was admitted to Radcliffe College, but could not afford it, so she attended Boston Teacher's College instead.  She earned her master's degree in five years.  After Boston Teacher’s College, Selma worked at the Boston Public Library's West End Branch with Fannie Goldstein, a member of Temple Israel and the first Jewish librarian in Boston.  Selma took two civil service exams for teaching in junior and high school, seeking an appointment for a permanent position.  Selma also describes her training to teach music; it was her minor in college.  She was hired by Rabbi Cohon at Temple Israel to teach seventh-grade music and then taught general education for seventh to ninth grade.  Selma reflects on teaching experiences over the years – her students (one of whom was the interviewer, Betsy Friedman Abrams), the curriculum, and the many field trips they went on.  Selma remembers meeting and marrying her husband Joe, who went to Hebrew Teachers College and Harvard Law School and became the first consultant for Reform Judaism at the Bureau of Jewish Education.  Selma traces her career path, teaching and working as a part-time secretary to Rabbi Jick at Temple Israel and balancing work with her family life and raising her son.  Finally, Selma reflects on running the Torch Bearer program at the Temple, her second career at Brandeis, the organizations she stays involved with, and the many people who influenced her throughout her life and career.  


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How to cite this page

Oral History of Selma Finstein. Interviewed by Betsy Friedman Abrams. 30 September 1997. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 29, 2024) <>.

Oral History of Selma Finstein by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at