A Tale of Two Jerusalems

How Swampscott reacted to anti-Semitic acts; how Newton did the same but came up empty

By Joshua Resnek

Published May 05, 2016, issue of May 05, 2016.
A standing room only crowd filled Newton City Hall on April 7 in reaction to anti-Semitic events there, above. Below, Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad addressed a group in Swampscott protesting anti-Semitism and racism.
A standing room only crowd filled Newton City Hall on April 7 in reaction to anti-Semitic events there, above. Below, Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad addressed a group in Swampscott protesting anti-Semitism and racism.

One place, Swampscott, is a town. The other place, Newton, is a city.

In many ways, they are communities as different as night is to day. As such, how they handle crises is a testimonial to their differences.

Newton tries to hide anti-Semitism. Swampscott puts it on display.

Newton officials attempt to package anti-Semitism with other forms of discrimination. Swampscott attacks anti-Semitism head-on. There’s no political correctness. Just unambiguous outrage.

Swampscott is on the ocean, a small town with a population of 14,000 with about 3,500 Jews. Everyone knows everyone else.

Newton is land bound, sprawling and crowded with people. It has a population of around 88,000, about a third of whom are Jewish. Many residents of Newton don’t know each other. Many don’t want to know each other.

The median price for a home in Swampscott according to Zillow home value index, is $412,000.

In Newton, the same index finds Newton’s median home value at $883,500. Jews can hide out in Newton. There is no disguising oneself in Swampscott.

Culturally, these two places are very much alike.

They are clean, orderly, polite and well-to-do communities which are almost exclusively white and upper middle class.

The Swampscott folks, and this includes its Jews, tend to be more conservative and less showy about their wealth. The median family income is $93,000.

In Newton, the wealth factor is visibly more evident as a fact of life all over that city.

Newton’s median family income is $112,000.

People like to think they are part of the multi-cultural mix in both places, but they aren’t.

They are as removed from the cultural reality of modern America as man is from the moon.

Kids growing up in these two places are privileged. They graduate from high school. They go to college. They get jobs. Many move back to Swampscott and Newton and live their lives of ease as their parents lived such lives before them.

Mind you, there is nothing wrong with such a benign and undifferentiated existence.

Newton and Swampscott are about as ideal as places to live can be.

Very little violence. Almost non-existent racism and discrimination. Hatred is subliminal. Jealousy – well, there’s jealousy everywhere, and Swampscott and Newton aren’t free of jealous residents.

In one way these two very different places are the same.

Anti-Semitic incidents break out every now and then… more now than then.

Swampscott and Newton both have large populations of Jews.

As such there is a sensitivity to all things Jewish and because of this, there is also an awareness of all things non-Jewish and un-Jewish such as anti-Semitism.

There was a time, and it was not so long ago, when Swampscott and Newton were largely non-Jewish. That’s when these two places had mostly Protestant populations at the turn of the last century.

Then came the Catholics. Then came the Irish. Then the Jews. And on and on in a blinding mix, though Newton and Swampscott will never be called the Melting Pot.

Over time, the Protestants were overwhelmed and outnumbered. They gradually disappeared from the landscape with only a few here and there populating these areas to recall to others what came before.

When the newcomers moved into these largely Protestant municipalities during the Roaring Twenties and in the generations after, their integration into local society wasn’t the stuff of welcome and hugs. There was a natural resistance to newcomers, whether they be Irish Catholics, Jews or Italians.

They simply weren’t welcome with outstretched arms.

No need to apply to the local golf course for membership. It wasn’t allowed for Jews. Nor did local clubs open their ranks to Jews, the Irish and all the newcomers. There was then, a constitutional indifference among the local folks who had inhabited both these places, to the newcomers.

If you were a Jew, this behavior was anti-Semitic. If you were Catholic, it was anti-Catholic. If you were a Protestant old-timer, you wished these people would go elsewhere, anywhere but to Swampscott and Newton.

Therein lies the beginnings of anti-Semitism in both these communities.

For many years when the Jews were arriving, the anti-Semitism was a bit more harsh and palpable than today.

It is already such a long time that Jews have populated both these places that it is impossible to recall a time when they didn’t belong.

In today’s world, the Jews have not only come to belong, but in a sense, to dominate over the old time Yankees who have died out or moved away.

And so it is entirely natural and not unusual that now and then, in both places, latent anti-Semitism and blatant anti-Semitism are noticeably present.

Such events of anti-Semitism break out like hives. The way hives cause human skin to become raw and blistered, anti-Semitism causes Jewish feelings to react very strongly or to pooh pooh outbreaks and to move on in the hope that it won’t happen again.

Fast forward to about two weeks ago.

A student found a swastika scrawled in the bathroom at the Swampscott Middle School. Another swastika was found scrawled on the sidewalk nearby by a Jewish couple out for a walk.

The school principal reported the incident in the middle school immediately to Superintendent of Schools Pamela Angelakis. Then the Swampscott Police were informed about the swastika found by the couple out for a walk. Officers investigated the hate signs.

Word spread quickly in Swampscott throughout all the various interconnected channels.

Hearing of the incidents, Chabad Rabbi Yossi Lipsker called his rabbi colleagues in Swampscott and Marblehead, Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Shirat Hayam and Rabbi David Cohen-Rodriguez of Temple Sinai. Both pledged their support for a non-denominational rally the next day at the gazebo in Swampscott’s Linscott Park.

Rabbi Lipsker reached out to Swampscott Police Chief Ron Madigan, and to Swampscott Schools Superintendent Pamela Angelakis, and to a number of local selectmen, school committee men and women and the state reps, Lori Ehrlich chief among them.

The call went out for a protest of this hate crime the following day.

There was no time and no inclination by social, religious and town leaders to set up a happy venue where discrimination would be discussed instead of anti-Semitism.

After all, this isn’t Newton, where principals didn’t inform the public of anti-Semitic incidents in the public schools there. The superintendent of schools didn’t inform the public either. Newton Mayor Setti Warren, when pressured by the force of public scrutiny to hold a hearing, set it up to be a hearing on discrimination, which led to a near riotous experience in Newton City Hall, where Jewish residents came out en masse to talk about anti-Semitism, but were met instead by a feel-good lineup of speakers chosen by the mayor to heap a load of political correctness on an angry crowd looking for justice.

No such scenario came to pass in Swampscott, where a small mixed crowd of about 75 assembled near the gazebo in Linscott Park.

Police Chief Madigan and Superintendent Angelakis gave forceful speeches condemning hatred and anti-Semitism.

“We need to come together,” the chief told the crowd. “I condemn these acts of hate and intolerance. All the people in our town deserve to be treated equally,” he said.

Superintendent Angelakis said she was horrified by the anti-Semitic incidents in the schools.

“This is not a reflection of my beliefs or who we are,” she said forcefully.

Everyone all around the gazebo shook their heads in agreement.

Chabad’s Rabbi Lipsker ranted about the senseless gestures of hate. “And in our schools of all places!”

“The swastika, this symbol being seen by our children is double the pain,” he added.

Rabbi Lipsker called upon Rabbi Ragozin to meet this public challenge. Unlike the Jewish clergy contingent in Newton – whose only response to the events there was to sign a document that appeared in the Newton Tab bemoaning the fact that Jews there had spoken out when they should be better comported. The Newton rabbis felt the tone wasn’t just right for Jews complaining in public about anti-Semitism.

“We are gathered here to stand together,” said Rabbi Ragozin. “We are here today noting a reduction in joy because of the contemporary plagues besetting us.” His voice was strong and absent of the Jewish apologetic so noticeable at Newton City Hall several weeks before.

The rabbi handed out ten pieces of paper with ten inscriptions written on them to those gathered around the gazebo.

The bearded, tall, handsome, well spoken rabbi asked each person to call out the inscription, after which he would drip some wine onto the grass from a jug.

One by one residents called out for all to hear and the rabbi spilled wine every time:

Hatred, racism, bigotry, sexism, prejudice, lack of civility, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, misogyny, ignorance, homophobia, intolerance, and demonization of others – and after each of these was called out, the rabbi spilled wine from his jug.

It was, by comparison to what residents witnessed in Newton City Hall, a very powerful, sobering interlude under the sunshine of a beautiful day.

“Words matter. Leadership matters. Wouldn’t it be nice if hate could go back into the hole it comes out of,” said State Representative Lori Ehrlich.

“The swastika hurts every decent peaceful human being,” Rabbi Lipsker told the crowd.

“Hatred, ignorance, bigotry and racism cannot be tolerated,” he added.

Swampscott Pastor Ian Holland perhaps said it best.

“We can do better. Fellowship and love is what we need. What separates us diminishes us.”

Dr. Charles Jacobs is shown shortly before the screening May 3 of Axis of Bias, the Avi Goldwasser magnum opus exposing the inclusion of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish teaching materials in Newton’s public schools. More than 200 attended the showing which was held at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody. A question and answer session followed. The event was sponsored by the Lappin Foundation and Hadassah Northeast. Goldwasser is a filmmaker. Jacobs is President of Americans for Tolerance and Peace. Jacobs is a powerful voice for Israel. His recent efforts to highlight anti-Jewish teaching materials in Newton at a public hearing there on anti-Semitism created an uproar at City Hall.

HOW A NORTH SHORE RABBI RESPONDED:

“I was asked as a spiritual leader to address a gathering to protest racism, which I would agree to do proudly and enthusiastically. I wouldn’t get up in front of a group of African Americans who are hurting and proceed to decry the scourge of anti-Semitism. I would vociferously condemn racism. To do otherwise would be unacceptable and insensitive on multiple levels. Would that make me a bad Jew? No. I think not. That would make as much sense as branding me a racist for making the need to combat anti-Semitism.” – Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad

WHY DIDN’T NEWTON RABBIS RESPOND?

Where were Newton’s rabbis, many have asked. Were they too busy to discuss anti-Semitism in Newton? Was such a venue with so many Jewish people seeking answers not important enough for their presence? One rabbi was present, but he left when he realized how long it was going to take before he got to speak, we were told. Were the rabbis at the shooting range? Were they all visiting the Holocaust Memorial in Boston? Were they too horrified to attend, or simply too self-possessed to really care?

Swastika in Georgetown

When Georgetown officials were confronted by anti-Semitic drawings in the artificial turf of the middle school football field on April 28, Police Chief Donald Cudmore and school Superintendent Carol Jacobs wasted no time in responding. Three students have already been punished for their roles in the incident, and a public forum regarding the offenses was scheduled for one week later on Thursday, May 5.



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