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Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton delivered probably the strongest sermon I’ve ever heard Saturday. As the senior rabbi of one of the largest Conservative synagogues in the country, Gardenswartz’s words (delivered to several hundred people) conveyed his anger about the behavior of some Jewish attendees  at the April 7 community forum about prejudice and discrimination.

UPDATE: Here’s the Boston Globe’s article about Rabbi Gardenswartz’s sermon.

I’m including a few excerpts here, but you’ll need to read his words through to the end to get the full message.

Gardenswartz called out the heckling of the African-American mother who was trying to share her story about her son’s experience with racism in the Newton schools:

“Not hearing an African American woman’s story of racism because we only have bandwidth to talk about anti-Semitism was a very bad moment for the Jewish community of Newton.

“When I heard about it, and read the press coverage, and saw the clip, I was saddened, and embarrassed, as a rabbi in Newton, as a Jew, and as a human being. I called both Mayor Warren and Superintendent Fleishman and apologized for conduct that is unworthy of us and inconsistent with our own ideals. I also tried to ascertain the identity of this woman so that I could apologize to her as well.”

Referring to an interpretation of a Torah portion, Gardenswartz spoke of Jewish priests needing two eyes to see others’ pain.

“…[we] need to see the person before us, and the pain they are in, in the broadest possible context. We cannot focus on one issue. We cannot focus only on our own issue. We must raise our gaze to take in the largest view.

That was the spiritual sin of the Jewish activists who heckled the African American mother. They were one-eyed priests. They could only see their own issue, anti-Semitism. But our Torah expects more from us.”

Calling the claims of anti-Semitic or anti-Israel bias in the NPS curriculum not “a real issue,”  he said:

“…in 19 years at Temple Emanuel, where lots of our families attend the Newton Public Schools, I have never heard from a single parent or student in the Newton Public Schools that there is such a bias…Nineteen years. Lots of families. Zero complaints from parents. Zero complaints from students.

I applaud Rabbi Gardenswartz for delivering a forceful message about an unfortunate event.


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