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From the Archive: A History of Activism

02/09/2022 09:16:45 AM


Rebecca Beit-Aharon

As part of my role as Synagogue Administrator and related to my alternate (but not secret) identity as a public history graduate student, I've been tapped to work on organizing and digitizing our rich archive. I'll be sharing some of my favorite findings in these posts. I hope you enjoy!


When our congregation first came together in late 1983, we were a kahal without a home. The purchase of a house on Commonwealth Ave—a central location ideal for the community—seemed promising.

Of course, a house isn't a synagogue. But the lot itself could be the site for Shaarei Tefillah's building—within certain guidelines. At a Building Committee Q&A on January 13, 1985, the committee explained that "Massachusetts courts have held that no restrictions may be placed on religious institutions, except parking." Because Shaarei was proposing to build something new, we needed to provide what Newton's Planning Board considered "adequate parking."

Although Shaarei ultimately failed to obtain the necessary zoning relief to build on Comm Ave, the tactics our early members used to advocate for their plan are squarely in line with good activism practices today. They identified leadership (the Building Committee), they wrote personalized letters to local officials (check out this packet!), and they attended the meeting that would decide their fate on Monday, March 25, 1985. They also staged a protest after their petition failed.

Today, Shaarei's history of activism continues. We're continuing to engage with what we're passionate about, whether through a film showing from the Israel Action Committee, volunteering for our Afghan Resettlement Project, or taking part in our annual Mishloach Manot fundraiser. And we know we can look to our own history, as well as the history of our people, to learn, grow, and strengthen.

Looking to learn more about Shaarei's history? Check out the full story here.

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