BOSTON – Gathering in front of the city’s Romanesque Trinity Church yesterday, more than 150 Boston-area Jews remembered the victims of last week’s Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue attack in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood.
Holding candles and “Stand with Israel” signs, a crowd of all ages listened to a chanting of the El Malei Rachamim funeral prayer including the five victims’ names. Among those murdered was Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, who once lived in Boston and maintained extensive ties with the local Jewish community.
The 59-year old Twersky was the grandson of New England’s most prominent rabbi, the late Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a founder of modern Orthodoxy. Twersky graduated from Boston’s Soloveitchik-founded Maimonides School in 1973, and — after moving to Israel in 1990 — he founded the English-language Toras Moshe yeshiva in Jerusalem. His Har Nof neighborhood is home to dozens of other one-time Bostonians who moved to Israel.
On Tuesday morning, two Palestinian terrorists attacked 30 worshipers – including Twersky – with guns, knives and axes during morning prayers. Twersky was the first reported fatality, followed by three other rabbis and a Druze police officer.
After Sunday’s vigil’s speaking program, participants remained in Copley Square for up to an hour with memorial candles. The vigil was the largest public outdoor gathering of Boston Jews since the summer’s Operation Protective Edge prompted several rallies.
Seventeen-year-old Andrew Jacobson joined the vigil with classmates from Swampscott High School, north of Boston. As the last speaker concluded, Jacobson yelled out, “I think we should sing ‘HaTikvah,’ everyone join in,” and he started to sing Israel’s national anthem.
“What happened in Jerusalem last week solidified my belief that we are on the right moral side,” Jacobson told The Times of Israel.
“I saw how Jewish leaders around the world condemn attacks against Arabs, when they have taken place,” said Jacobson. “Is there a single Muslim or imam who unequivocally condemned this synagogue attack?”
The vigil was organized by local activist Gil Bloom, head of the Boston Israel Action Committee, started in 2000. Bloom opened the event by referring to the house of worship participants stood in front of, the 1872-constructed Trinity Church.
“Each of the five people who died was doing their job,” said Bloom, who named the four rabbis and Druze police officer killed in the attack.
“The rabbis were immersed in prayer during the time of death,” said Bloom. “The police officer died protecting Israelis,” he said.
Calling himself the grandson of survivors, Bloom told mourners that “change starts with remembering, it starts with a memorial.” He noted the importance of holding these gatherings outside in public, where passersby will “catch a snippet” of the commemoration and why it matters to their neighbors.
“All people have the right to pray in freedom and safety in their places of worship,” said Jeremy Burton, executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Burton drew a contrast between Palestinians’ reaction to the synagogue attack – “handout out candies in the street” – and the ideal of “raising children to love Israel, to love Judaism, and to love freedom of religion,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, just hours after learning of the attack, the Maimonides School in Brookline held a memorial service for Twersky, who is survived by his wife, five children and ten grandchildren. More than 500 community members came to remember the late rabbi and express their outrage at the Jerusalem attack.
“We are heartbroken, we are numb,” said Naty Katz, Twersky’s former Maimonides classmate who now runs the school. “I will always remember Mosheh for his modesty, his brilliance, his smile and his kindness,” he said.
Danny Langermann of Boston, another former classmate of Twersky’s, gave a personal perspective on growing up with the rabbi and then learning from him. Langermann also recalled Twersky’s skills as a football offensive lineman more than four decades ago.
“We grew up together; our families were very close,” said Langermann. “We played whiffle ball together, we davened together, we danced together. I’ll remember him as a family man as much as a scholar,” he said.