Boston’s Catholics and Jews, 1929-1965
A senior thesis, submitted to the History Department of Brandeis University, in partial fulfillment of the Bachelor of Arts Degree.
24 April 2001
The Center for Christian-Jewish Learning is pleased to make available this outstanding senior thesis, completed in the History Department of Brandeis University by a 2001 graduate. Ms. Goldstein provides an excellent description of the history of Catholic – Jewish relations in Boston. Our congratulations to her and our thanks to her director Prof. Jonathan Sarna.
From the moment I arrived in Boston, feeling anxious to begin my college career, I set out to know this city. Feeling proud that I had transplanted myself 3,000 miles from my roots and anything that was familiar, I felt eager to soak up Brandeis and the greater Boston area. In my four years living in the Hub of America, I have spent many glorious afternoons relaxing on Boston Commons. The Commons remind me how history is interwoven into this city.
The proud Boston legacy also affects interreligious relations in Boston today. My thesis, an exploration of Catholics and Jews in Boston, explores not only ethnic and religious ties, but examines certain prominent Bostonians who have shaped the city’s history. The years between 1929 and 1965 saw a great deal of change in America; in many ways, Boston Catholic-Jewish relations reflect the changing times. Ultimately though, it was local religious and political leaders who led the transformation of Catholic-Jewish relations.
I had two goals when writing this thesis. The first was purely selfish. I wanted to test my ability as a historian. I hoped to understand what archival research entailed and how history is written. I chose Boston as my focus because I wanted to know Boston from a new perspective. My second reason involved wanting to explore the issue because Catholic-Jewish relations in Boston remain largely unexamined today. Studying a period in living history and tracing how relations have evolved during critical years has been very challenging, exciting and rewarding. After researching, reading and writing about Catholic-Jewish relations, I will be looking at the policy side of interreligious dynamics this summer. This thesis led me to apply for an American Jewish Committee fellowship and I am proud to continue my work in Christian-Jewish relations.
Many people have supported me along the way. Many thanks to Father David Michael, who spent numerous hours with me throughout this year. My one-on-one work with Father Michael taught me about the structure of the Catholic Church and certain theological issues. Associate Professor of History James M. O’Toole at Boston College helped me understand Cardinal O’Connell and graciously read over drafts. Father Bob Bullock, former Catholic Chaplain at Brandeis, was instrumental in guiding my early research. My three-hour interview with Isadore Zack, former civil rights director of the Anti-Defamation League, provided me with some of my most fruitful research. Mr. Zack brought life and stories to my thesis; he reminded me of how much this was still an evolving history. Philip Perlmutter’s anecdotes added a fresh perspective when my research reached a staggering point. Interviews with Monsignor Conley, editor of The Pilot, Larry Lowenthal, area director of the American Jewish Committee, and Padraic O’Hare provided me with an account of present Catholic-Jewish relations in Boston. Many thanks to the staff and archivists at the American Jewish Historical Society, the Robert D. Farber Archives and the Archdiocese Archives for their immense help.
I also am deeply indebted to Professors David Engerman, David H. Fischer and Jonathan D. Sarna for serving on my thesis committee. I am grateful to both Professor Sarna and Engerman for directing and editing drafts. Professor Sarna’s guidance and knowledge have largely influenced this thesis and have taught me how to examine and write history. Professor Engerman’s constant support and encouragement kept me motivated throughout the year. He has gone above and beyond to help me in my various endeavors. Lastly, I must thank my family for always believing in me. None of this would have been possible without their encouragement and boundless love.
“Boston commands special attention as the town which was appointed by the destiny of nations to lead the civilization of North America.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson1
Founded as a “City upon a Hill,” Boston was originally part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a refuge for Puritans fleeing religious persecution and economic hardship in their native lands of England and Scotland.2 As a religious haven, many Puritans descended upon America’s shores, eager to spread the church reformation and the gospel in the New World. John Winthrop, first governor of the colony, reassured the immigrants they would have God’s support. God would bless and protect them so that people everywhere would look at the Puritans and boast of their succeeding settlements. “The Lord make it like that of New England…The eyes of all people are upon us,” he wrote.3 Stripped of any signs of Catholicism or Anglicism, the Puritans sought to develop their own political and economic system, one that enforced their strict religious principles. Early Bostonians believed their efforts and enterprise were unique. They watched with pride as their small outpost on the Shawmut peninsula grew from the “City upon a Hill” to become the Hub of America.4 Boston’s prominence and peoples have certainly changed since its founding. Boston’s reputation as a religious haven, however, has not. Paradoxically, as thousands of Catholics and Jews fled to Boston throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries seeking religious freedom, they encountered ethnic and religious strife. The Puritan descendants and the Yankee aristocracy, later known as Boston Brahmins, watched with disdain as a flood of Irish immigrants settled in Boston during the nineteenth century. Much to the Brahmin dislike, the Boston that provided a haven for Puritans escaping from Anglican England also offered a new beginning for hundreds of thousands of Irish Catholics. Catholics left Great Britain because of religious persecution, and famine drove them from Ireland. Later in the nineteenth century, Boston would again open its gates to central and Eastern European immigrants, many of them Jewish. Boston was second, only behind New York, in its number of immigrants, many of whom came seeking religious freedom.
The subject of religion is crucial to understanding the history of Boston; Boston is a city where people take their religion seriously. Throughout the city’s three hundred-year history, religion has shaped the moral values, social behavior, and political and economic views of Boston residents.5 For immigrants, the process of adjusting to life in Boston made religion paramount as a way of life. When their environment changed and their former peasant ideals “faded behind the transatlantic horizon,” the newcomers gravitated toward religious institutions. Religion was one of the only things they could bring to their new world.6 According to the historian Thomas H. O’Connor,
Times would change, and circumstances would differ tremendously, but future generations of Bostonians would continue to view Boston, not just as ‘another’ city, but as a city set apart by its origins, its history, and its dedication to excellence to accomplish great and unusual things for the glory of G-d and for the benefit of man.7
The Irish and the Jews achieved the highest rates of permanent immigration to the United States and their migrations to America have many similarities.8 In emigrating to America, both Irish and Jews liberated themselves from oppressive governments and economic and political hardships. Their immigration stories reflect a sense of Hebraic origins; the Irish Catholics and the Jews crossed the Atlantic Ocean, symbolic of the Red Sea. They found America as a new sort of Promised Land and eventually settled in the City on a Hill.9 Upon their arrival in Boston, both ethnic groups faced similar hardships. Boston’s Brahmin environment was often hostile to Catholics and Jews. Brahmin society included men from elitist Protestant backgrounds, the so-called “proper Bostonians.”10 According to the 1891 Boston Register, “proper Bostonians” included 8,000 people. Of that group, Louis Brandeis was the only Jewish member and in a city that was becoming overwhelming Catholic, the list included fewer than a dozen Catholic families.11
Despite their commonalties in terms of their journey and experience in the United States, Catholics and Jews have a long tumultuous history in the Hub of America. Their history intersected during the 1950s on Boston Common, the oldest park in America. The Commons have served many purposes throughout the past centuries, and in the 1950s, brought Catholics and Jews to the park to hear Father Leonard Feeney preach his controversial viewpoints. On this historic site, Boston’s Catholics and Jews confronted their bitter pasts. In order to understand the significance of Father Feeney’s addresses on Boston Common to Catholic-Jewish relations, one must examine how Catholic-Jewish relations evolved in the Hub of America.
The early years of Boston Catholicism
Strictly forbidden from residing in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Boston Catholics trace their roots back to a very hostile and zealous beginning. In 1768, the patriot Sam Adams expressed his opinion that American colonies should be more fearful of “the growth of Popery” than from the infamous Stamp Act.12 Boston’s opposition to Catholics began to decline with the American Revolution. Religious attitudes showed a greater sense of toleration during the spring of 1778, when France joined the war and helped the struggling colonial army.13 The total number of Catholics living in Boston reached almost five hundred by 1790.14
Political and economic hardships in Ireland soured the plight of the Irish farmer during the nineteenth century. In 1800, the British government passed the Act of Union, which brought Ireland into the United Kingdom and further reduced Irish independence. After being deprived of their own political system and subjected to heavy taxes and strict English landlords, Irish Catholics journeyed to America.15The infamous famine of the 1840s struck Ireland harshly, prompting hundreds of thousands to flee to America in pursuit of a better life. Immigration escalated during these years, as about 700,00 Irish immigrated to America during the period from 1820 to 1840. The all-time peak occurred in post-famine Ireland, with 216,000 Irish arriving in America during 1851 alone.16 By 1860, Boston had almost 46,000 Irish-born Catholics and was home to 26 percent of all Irish-born Catholics in America.17 A large Irish population settled in Boston, in a break from their rural roots. They concentrated in cities in America and many stayed on the seacoast cities because they ran out of money to travel further inland.18
Boston’s Irish faced religious discrimination. The city retained much of its distinctive Anglo-Saxon Protestant heritage. Protestants feared that Irish Catholic immigrants would be controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and would not be responsible democratic American citizens.19 Brahmins stereotyped the Irish as excessive drinkers with an inclination for brawling. The Brahmins felt proud of their past, as many of their ancestors had participated in the Boston Tea Party and had led the fight for the American Revolution. They had also founded schools such as Harvard and produced some of the nation’s best known authors, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, and later, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Under the weight of the proud Brahmin history, these great names and institutions sometimes made the Boston Irish feel inferior.20 Irish in other cities appeared better off, psychologically speaking. The Irish who journeyed to Chicago, St. Louis or the far West had the advantage of growing up in a new city or growing up around them. Those Irish who moved to New York or Philadelphia also encountered wealthy classes, but these cities were more fluid and did not have the exclusive past that distinguished the Brahmins of Boston.21
Irish Catholics faced years of discrimination. Bishop John Fitzpatrick, a native of Boston and the third Boston bishop (1846-1866), encountered continual problems with anti-Catholicism during the mid-nineteenth century. For example, he fought with the city bureaucracy about the rights of Catholics to bury their dead in Catholic cemeteries. Schools were another important concern. He encouraged Catholic parents to keep their children in public schools, despite the Boston schools’ strong Protestant ties. Bishop Fitzpatrick argued taking Catholic children out of schools only allowed the “bigots” to win, even though Catholic students were subjected to an environment where teachers recited Protestant prayers, read the King James Bible and presented history in an anti-Catholic fashion.22
Another example of anti-Catholicism involved the Ursuline Covenant, established by Catholics in 1826 in Charlestown. From its beginning, the covenant’s presence inflamed the Puritan imagination with images of torture and immoral practices. A so-called “escaped nun,” Rebecca Theresa Reed spread wild stories about the convent.23 Shortly after, an actual nun ran away from the school as a result of the strain from overwork. Sentiments toward the Ursuline Covenant were already running high and only furthered exacerbated when a well-known Protestant preacher, Lyman Beecher, presented three strongly anti-Catholic sermons. A day later, a group of forty or fifty men burst into the school and set fire to it on the night of 11 August 1834. The press and Boston leaders defended Catholics as loyal Americans, but nativist attacks on Catholic property continued.24
Catholics also faced oppression from the Know-Nothing Party, which rose to national prominence in 1854. Founded on the belief that native-born Americans must slow the immigrant tide, the Know-Nothing Party led the passage of a bill preventing any immigrant from voting until he had been a resident for twenty-one years. In Roxbury, the Know-Nothing party also violated the civil rights of nuns and schoolchildren when they investigated a Catholic school, seeking incriminating evidence about Catholics.25
Despite many initial setbacks, Boston Catholics began to emerge as a powerful force throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. Boston’s Irish situation differed from that in other cities, which generally included a bigger mix of ethnic groups.26 The Irish in Boston, however, erupted in the 1840s and until the 1880s, were Boston’s only major immigrant group.27 The Irish, furthermore, resided in Boston longer than any other nationality.28
The composition of the Boston Catholic Church changed in the 1880s, when Catholics began arriving from countries such as Italy, Greece, the Balkans, present-day Poland and Lithuania, Russia and the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.29 In the ten years between 1900 and 1910, over 150,000 Italians arrived in Massachusetts, along with 80,000 Catholic Poles, and another 25,000 Lithuanians. Most of these newcomers settled in Boston or in other major urban centers such as Brockton and Lawrence.30 The number of Catholics in Boston grew so much that by 1875, Pope Pius IX transformed the Boston diocese into an archdiocese, whose province included all the dioceses of New England. The Boston Archdiocese in 1875 boasted over 800,000 Catholics, 400 priests, five bishops and one archbishop.31The number of Catholics continued to rise throughout the early twentieth century and by 1930, 1,039,000 Catholics called Boston their home.32
Jewish immigration to Boston
As the cradle of American civilization, Boston also holds a distinguished place for American Jews because Solomon Franco, the first known Jew in the United States, arrived in Boston in 1649.33 A Jewish scholar and trader, Franco was in charge of the cargo assigned to the Major General of the Colony, Edward Gibbons. Franco, like many other early Sephardic Jewish immigrants, only stayed in Boston temporarily.34 Unlike other colonial centers, Boston did not develop a Jewish community for over two centuries.35 Two factors account for the late arrival of Jews in the city. Boston did not emerge as a major trading town such as those found in Virginia, New York, the Carolinas or Pennsylvania so it held less appeal to the European Jewish trading families.36 The late arrival of Boston Jews also resulted from Boston’s founding as a Puritan city, as Boston’s Brahmin community did not welcome either Catholics or Jews.
Although off to a slow start, Boston’s Jewish population exploded in the late nineteenth century. In 1868, 7,000 Jews lived in Boston.37 Many Jews emigrated during these years because the death of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 marked the unleashing of anti-Judaic elements in Russia.38 Russians began terrorizing Jews across the Pale of Settlement and participated in pogroms, organized waves of anti-Jewish violence, implemented throughout the country. In addition to these injustices, overpopulation, poverty, and crushing despair contributed to Jewish emigration. The pogroms and oppressive conditions led to a debate as to how Jews should face the resurgence of anti-Judaism. Some Jews said they should remain in their Russian homeland, while others some looked for a new land where they would not face religious persecution.39 Thus emerged the growth of Zionism and immigration to America on a large scale.40 At the 1882 “Jewish notables” conference held in St. Petersburg to discuss whether emigration should become a communal policy, Max Mandelstam, a delegate from Kiev said, “Either we get civil rights or we emigrate. Our human dignity is being trampled upon, our wives and daughters are being dishonored, we are looted and pillaged; either we get decent human rights or else let us go wherever our eyes may lead us.”41
Those eyes led many Jews to America. For the next fifty years, Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe occurred in waves. Jews sometimes had to sneak across Austria or Germany to get to a port city from which they could embark for the new Promised Land. Upon arrival at Ellis Island, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) greeted Jewish refugees.42 After enduring long lines and complicated procedures at Ellis Island, many Jews settled in New York, while others dispersed throughout the United States.
Many of Boston’s Russian Jewish immigrants, as well as Italian immigrants, settled in the North and West Ends throughout the 1880s and 1890s, previously Irish districts. Whereas the Irish Catholics could at least speak English and had some common traditions with their Protestant and Brahmin brethren, the new immigrants spoke a variety of languages, dressed differently and followed a puzzling array of social customs.43 Kevie Carmen, a young Jewish immigrant, recalled how the “noisy mixture of many languages sounded like another Tower of Babel.”44 By 1890 there were almost 5,000 Italians and 4,000 Jews in Boston. By 1907 the number of Jews in Boston jumped to 60,000 (3.3 percent of American Jewry). Jews and Italians lived in very concentrated areas during these years; in 1910, there were over 30,000 Italians in the North End and 40,000 Russian Jews in Boston’s West End alone.45 By 1927, 90,000 Jews called Boston home (2.3 percent of American Jewry).46
After residing in the West, North and later South Ends, the more successful Jews began moving out of the downtown areas around the turn of the century and into Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. The Hecht House, a community center, followed the path of Jewish movement in the city. Boston Jews organized the Hecht House in 1889 as the Hebrew Industrial School to prepare immigrant girls for work in industry, especially the needle trades.47 Established by Lina Hecht, wife of a prominent German Jew, the school served as an important resource to help Central and Eastern European Jews acclimate to America. As it expanded, it included a nursery school, provided activities for elementary school children and presented evening programs for high school students, young adults, and adults.48 The Hecht House also moved only a few years after its founding in the North End to the nearby West End, to better serve the changing needs of the Jews. In 1936 it moved again to Dorchester, following a notable shift in Jewish demographics. The Hecht House would later play an important role in strengthening Jewish identity in the face of persecution.
As middle-class Jews began to move into the Roxbury-Dorchester-Mattapan area, they found themselves living in a quilt of ethnically diverse neighborhoods. By 1910, Boston’s first suburban Jewish settlement was located around Blue Hill Avenue, where Dorchester met upper Roxbury (see appendix).49 While Jews lived in neighborhoods along Blue Hill Avenue, Catholics also lived throughout this area and many Yankee families resided in outer Dorchester.
While Jewish, Catholic and the Yankee families were divided along religious lines, they also came from different parts of Europe. Deep internal divisions separated the ethnic enclaves. The scene was set for a turbulent 1920s and 1930s between Boston Catholics, Jews and Protestants, which would only be exacerbated by America’s problems and the financial crises of the era.
The 1930s and early 1940s were grave years in Boston Catholic-Jewish relations. Antisemitism, profoundly spurred by the Great Depression, Father Coughlin, and the rise of the Christian Front organization, hit all time highs in America and especially in Boston. Only three decades later, Boston Catholics and Jews entered a new era and began addressing their differences. This thesis will explore the relationship between Catholics and Jews in Boston during the critical years between the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 until the end of the second Vatican Council in 1965. An examination of these years is crucial to understanding how relations in Boston went from some of the most hostile in the country to some of the best in the late twentieth century. Many international, national and local factors influenced Boston Catholic-Jewish relations, but above anything else, the rise of effective leadership in both the Catholic and Jewish communities led Boston in a new era. Although Catholic-Jewish relations have received a lot of attention in recent years and have been also largely identified under the growing heading of Christian-Jewish studies, these years in Boston remain largely unexamined.
The following chapters will chart important events in the course of Boston Catholic-Jewish relationships and will particularly focus on the role leadership has played. Chapter two, 1929-44, examines how international events, such as the Spanish Civil War and the rise of the Nazi party, divided Catholics and Jews. Both Catholic and Jewish leadership did not have much formal communication with each other during these years. William Cardinal O’Connell appeared indifferent to Catholic antisemitism in Boston and the Jewish community suffered from a lack of organization and unity in the 1930s.
A new scene emerged from this dismal picture of the 1930s and early 1940s, which is the focus of chapter three, 1944-58. The year 1944 symbolized a turning point in Catholic-Jewish relations. While the number of antisemitic incidents peaked in 1944, Boston Catholics and Jews benefited immeasurably from the rise of effective leadership. The formation of the Boston Jewish Community Council in 1944 strengthened the Jewish community. During the same year, Archbishop Richard J. Cushing assumed office and devoted his twenty-six year tenure as head of the Boston Archdiocese to bring Boston Catholics and Jews together. The post World War II era ushered in a new era for more tolerant interreligious relations in America, and in Boston. Boston Catholics and Jews came together over the local Feeney affair in the 1950s, which involved a Catholic priest who was ex-communicated for his controversial statements against Jews and other non-Catholics.
Chapter four, 1958-65, examines how changes at the Second Vatican Council affected Boston. In 1958, the elevation of Archbishop Cushing in Boston and the election of Pope John XXIII in Rome had profound consequences on the reconciliation of Christian-Jewish relations. The presidency of John F. Kennedy, a native Boston Catholic, also did much to ease interreligious tensions. These years began to see how the strengthening of Boston Catholic and Jewish leadership percolated down to improving relations at the local level. This era provided a marked contrast to the relations of the 1930s and 1940s, when Boston Catholics and Jews remained largely divided over various international, national, and local factors. The rise of effective Boston Catholic and Jewish leaders also profoundly shaped relations and led the positive transformation of interreligious relations. Before one can appreciate how strong Boston Catholic-Jewish relations are today, a reflection back in time illustrates this was not always the case.
In May 1944, a Jewish student at Dorchester High School testified about a fight that erupted in the middle of the school day. According to the Jewish student’s affidavit, fifty gentile boys came running up to him and his Jewish friends and said, “There are the Jews. Let’s get them. Let’s beat them up…” Some of the Jewish boys escaped, but the Christian boys charged, “We will get them tomorrow, if we don’t get them today.” The Jewish student continued, ” I did not go to school the next day. I knew they were going to get us, sooner or later. I stayed out of school to avoid being drawn into a fight. Two or three other Jewish boys said they were not going to school the next day for the same reason.”2
Antisemitic incidents such as this occurred regularly in parts of Boston during the 1940s. Violence, especially among youth, was rife during these years; roving Irish gangs beat up Jewish teenagers in parts of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. Irish Catholic attacks on Jews extended beyond the confines of the classroom and transcended neighborhood barriers. The attacks represented a microcosm of the antisemitism sweeping over Europe and America throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Boston Irish Catholic violence against Jews were not isolated incidents, but occurred in response to the outside world. That world grew dimmer as the Nazis and Fascists gained power in Europe and as the Great Depression, both at home and abroad, continued.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the complexity of Catholic-Jewish relations in Boston involved many levels. The outermost level was international events. Two important events, the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and the rise of the Nazi party (1933-45), affected Catholic-Jewish relations in Europe and America. The Depression had a profound effect on the national level and led to a rise in antisemitism. These external events influenced Boston’s Catholics and Jews and prompted many antisemitic attacks in Boston. The innermost level involved the local Boston scene. As a stronghold of Father Coughlin’s anti-Semitic Christian Front organization, the city experienced tumultuous interethnic relations, especially among Catholics and Jews living in close proximity to each other in the Dorchester-Roxbury-Mattapan area. The hierarchical structure and conservatism of Catholicism also played a factor in the Catholic response to Jews. This chapter will explore how a convergence of events at the international, national, and local levels impacted Boston Catholic-Jewish relations in the 1930s and 1940s.
Boston’s Catholic-Jewish relationship differed from other American cities. Boston was second only to New York in the number of foreign-born residents during this time period. Ethnic rivalries remained high in the Hub. Boston still maintained a strong Yankee remnant, but by the 1930s, it also contained significant Italian-American, Jewish, and Irish populations. In addition, according to Charles H. Trout, the city “could well have laid claim to being the Dublin of America: more than half the population boasted Irish origins.”3 This preponderance of Catholics profoundly shaped the Boston Catholic-Jewish relationship because no American city contained a larger percentage of Catholics.
Cardinal O’Connell and the role of the Catholic Church
Appointed as archbishop in 1906, William O’Connell led Boston Catholics into a new era. He summarized the change at a speech given in October 1908 in honor of the Boston diocese centennial with these famous words, “The Puritan has passed; the Catholic remains.”4 Under O’Connell’s influence, the Catholic Church in the Boston Archdiocese “assumed a conceptual solidarity and impressive visibility that it had never seen before and would never see again.”5 Archbishop O’Connell brought Boston Catholics together through the development of Catholic culture. According to the historian James M. O’Toole, the Church emphasized Catholic spirituality. Many Catholics lived in neighborhoods with their religious brethren. The result of the blending of Catholic culture, religion and lifestyle produced a powerful unifying force in the first half of the twentieth century in Boston.6 This would later have repercussions for Catholic-Jewish relations, as the tightly knit Irish Catholic communities dominated Boston both politically and religiously.
Archbishop O’Connell’s attempts to unite Catholics sometimes resulted in separation from non-Catholics. Boston was notorious for its ethnic enclaves of the 1930s and ‘40s and O’Connell played an instrumental role in dividing the city into religious factions. Often characterized as a tribal city, Boston’s sub-groups, including the Irish of Southie and Charlestown and the Jews of Brookline, have understood themselves in terms of a communal solidarity that sharply defines a “we” and a “they.”7 Jews and Catholics did not pursue significant dialogue with each other during these years. In addition to a lack of interaction with Jews, O’Connell encouraged Catholics to separate themselves from the Protestant traditions of Brahmin Boston and be proud of their Celtic origins. By stressing their differences, he distinguished Catholics from Protestants in both religion and social intercourse.8 O’Connell divided Boston between Catholics and Protestants, while Irish Catholic Mayor James Curley split Boston between Yankee and Irish.9 This helped solidify Catholic unity, but it also contributed to a more strict sense of division and ethnic antagonism in Boston and “in this setting, conflict was institutionalized.”10
During the 1930s, many people viewed the Catholic Church in America as a monolithic institution. Archbishop O’Connell, one of the most conservative prelates in America, was known for his efficiency and the power he commanded. According to Charles Morris, “No other American institution was as autocratic as the Church.”11 Cardinal O’Connell told Boston Catholics, “When I ask you to do anything, trust me and do it.”12 Catholics had been taught to obey, as Katherine Loughlin wrote in the Catholic national liberal weekly Commonweal. She wrote, “The fact is that the Boston Catholic laity are in leading strings to the clergy and are impotent. In an excess of goodness, docility, almost infantilism, they respond to every dictum of the clergy as to their individual lives and their homes and the support of every authorized ecclesiastical activity.”13 However, James M. O’Toole’s book on Cardinal O’Connell noted that the structure of the Roman Catholic Church was not so simple:
To be sure, the church was no democracy, but neither was it an absolute monarchy in which an all-powerful king (in this case, the archbishop) had merely to give the word and all his subjects would fall submissively into line. Rather, American Catholicism in the age of O’Connell was feudal in character.14
Archbishop O’Connell certainly maintained a significant amount of power in the Church, but local parish priests also exercised control in their areas. The conservative and hierarchical nature of the Church is crucial to understanding how Boston Irish Catholics responded to anti-Semitic attacks in later years.
On 28 October 1911, Pope Pius X announced Archbishop O’Connell would be elevated to the Cardinal rank. During his first few years as Archbishop, Cardinal O’Connell re-organized the Boston archdiocese. He defined himself as an upholder of centralized Roman authority. During a period of domestic social changes and international crisis, the Catholic Church held fast to its established values and traditional understandings. Some of these beliefs and values included a divinely controlled world and an acceptance of authority.15 When their religious clergy failed to speak out against injustices, Boston Catholics often followed their lead and remained silent.
The effect of the Great Depression
Initially, American antisemitism did not increase dramatically with the onset of the Great Depression. It was not until 1933, when a Nazi-led government in Germany rose to power and President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced his New Deal that antisemitism in America reached extraordinary levels. Jews actually became more prominent in politics in the 1930s and many experienced a close relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Governor of New York, Roosevelt had previous experience working with Jews. After being elected to the White House, he brought significant numbers of Jews into his government for the first time in American history.16 Prominent Jewish Bostonians such as Supreme Court Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter had served in the government for years. They served as two of Roosevelt’s closest advisors on governmental policy.17Governmental agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and Interior and the Securities and Exchange Commission had a significant number of Jews in prominent positions.18
The rise of Jews in politics, however, only led many disillusioned and frustrated Americans to blame Jews for their economic problems. As the Depression staggered on, Hitler’s attacks on Jews as the root cause of the world’s economic and social problems no longer seemed so outrageous to some bigots.19 The economic effects of the Great Depression altered all aspects of American life. Jews fared better than most groups during the Great Depression. Americans who were anti-Roosevelt frequently blamed Jewish New Deal advisors for their problems because they believed Jewish businesses controlled the money supply. Such frustrated Americans also spread the rumor that Jews were running the government. Tension persisted when Roosevelt staffed the New Deal bureaucracies. Social work began to flourish under the New Deal and many Jews applied for these positions. As caseworkers, Jews often interviewed workers, many of whom were blue-collar unemployed workers, which created hostility and resentment at Jewish status.20
The rise of antisemitism in both America and Europe accompanied the deepening economic crisis. Respectable social and religious leaders echoed widespread antisemitic attitudes. American antisemitism in the 1930s was “more virulent and more vicious than at any time before or since.”21 According to Charles Morris, “It is impossible to overestimate the psychological devastation of the Depression on average working men and women.”22 Antisemitism reached high levels in urban areas, especially New York and Boston.23 According to Nat Hentoff, a Jewish youth growing up in Roxbury during the 1930s, Boston was the most antisemitic city during O’Connell’s regime.24
The rise of Christian demagogues became popular in America during the 1930s. One considerable antisemitic figure of this period was Father Coughlin, a famous radio preacher from Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb. With an appealing radio voice, he presented his sermons every Sunday afternoon for years from his church, Shrine of the Little Flower.25 Between 30 to 45 radio stations broadcasted Coughlin’s weekly sermons. Millions of Americans listened to his views regarding economic and social issues. Churches around the country rescheduled Sunday services so they would not interfere with Coughlin’s radio broadcasts.26 According to Alan Brinkley, referees in Brockton, Massachusetts, halted games just before 3 p.m. on Sundays so parents, coaches and students could hear the famous radio priest. Games resumed after his broadcast. But it wasn’t just the Catholics who listened to Coughlin. Nat Hentoff, a Jewish boy who grew up in Dorchester, recalled in his memoir Boston Boy hearing Father Coughlin:
There was silence as the priest from the Shrine of the Little Flower spoke. Each of us needed to hear every word. The adults in the car had heard similar words, though not nearly so lyrically phrased, and the words had become pogroms…My cousins and I, citizens of this New World by birth, listened just as intently to Father Coughlin. We felt hunted too. None of us had the slightest doubt, on those Sunday afternoons, that pogroms could happen here too…But at night…we children forgot Father Coughlin. Until just before we went to sleep.27
Until 1935, Coughlin’s preaching fell into the American and Catholic mainstream.28As an early supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt, he later turned bitterly against the New Deal and expressed strongly anti-Semitic views. He made references to the money lenders and international financiers who kept America in the midst of Depression and in 1935 complained about, “the Tugwells, the Frankfurters, and the rest of the Jews who surround” the President.29
Coughlin’s influence expanded as the international scene during the 1930s grew darker. His newspaper Social Justice increasingly reported on the Nazi rise to power in Germany. A few days after Kristallnacht, Father Coughlin minimized German atrocities committed that night.30 He justified the Nazi cause by saying German Jews were responsible for the Weimar Republic’s economic and social problems. Coughlin also reprinted copies of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion in his newspaper.31 In November 1938 the New Republic claimed there was “almost no editorial difference between the Nazi weeklies and Coughlin’s Social Justice.”32Coughlin proposed to enact social justice through the “reorganization” of the American government, using Italy as a model. In short, he wanted to introduce fascism in America.33
Coughlin took an anti-Communist stance because he, like many Catholics in the 1930s, associated Jews with Communism. The problem with the accusation of Jewish Communism was that it had enough truth to make the story believable to Jew-haters.34 Although Communism was never a strong force in America, Jews were prominent in the movement. Russian Jewish immigrants tended to belong to the Party because it symbolized more than just a party; aging immigrants could not give up their “lifetime of psychological investment.” Many lived together in housing built by Communist unions or attended Yiddish-speaking summer camps, another creation of the Communist Party.35 Jewish membership in the Communist Party rose during the 1920s, partially motivated by exclusionary measures in America and support for the Bolshevik Revolution. Second generation Americans affiliated with the Communist Party out of anger at their lack of acceptance in America during the 1930s. This said, many Catholics associated Jews with Communism. Catholics saw Communism as a Godlessness evil and many bigots praised Hitler for saving Germany from “Jewish communism.”36 While Catholics and the Church emphasized order, authority and conservatism, Jews tended to favor intellectualism, socialism and Communism. Indeed, a 1939 nationwide poll asked, “If you had to choose between Fascism and Communism, which would you choose?” Sixty-six percent of American Catholics chose Fascism, sixty-seven percent of Jews chose Communism.37 Catholic fear of Communism was a theme that ran throughout this era and helped explain why Boston Catholics were so drawn to Father Coughlin and his anti-Communist stance.
In addition to his radio broadcasts and newspaper, Coughlin spread his radical views through the Christian Front organization. As part of his crusade to eliminate communism, Father Coughlin called in the 23 May 1938 issue of Social Justice for the establishment of the Christian Front to unite believers. The Christian Front had chapters in twelve American cities, but received the most attention in Brooklyn and Boston, where about 90 percent of its members were Irish Catholics.38 A new bishop of Detroit forced Coughlin off the air in 1942 because of his radical views. The bishop also removed Coughlin because once America entered the war, Father Coughlin’s isolationist stance put him at odds with the government. Despite the end of his radio career, Coughlin’s weekly magazine continued to amplify his viciously anti-Semitic views.
Coughlin’s influence in Boston and America was profound. Historians estimate between 20 to 40 million Americans listened to him.39 His views appealed to many dissatisfied Americans who felt frustrated by the enduring Depression and fearful of Communism. He was also significant because, according to Leonard Dinnerstein’s Antisemitism in America, “No American Catholic had ever before achieved such commanding attention and approval in the United States.40 Among Irish Catholics, Coughlin found most of his support in the lower class and middle classes. His influence was not limited to Catholics only, as many Protestants and even Jews listened to him.41
Father Coughlin’s impact in Boston
Father Coughlin had an especially large following in Boston. Mayor Jim Curley dubbed Boston the “most Coughlinite [city] in America.”42 Coughlin boasted that only Waterloo, Iowa had a higher per capita membership in his organization.43When Father Coughlin visited Boston in 1935, the city council and the Massachusetts legislature received him. The 1936 presidential election, in which Coughlin mounted a third-party candidate, reflected his strength in Boston. The Union Party, Coughlin’s ill-fated third party, ran stronger in Boston than in any other American city. It captured 8.3 percent of the citywide vote in Boston and over 11 percent in the Irish working-class neighborhoods in South Boston and Charlestown.44 Catholic support was consolidated in these areas because Father Coughlin appealed to the bitterness and frustrations that many Irish Catholics experienced. The Boston situation was also extreme because, according to Jonathan D. Sarna,
In Boston, more than in any other cities, politicians, priests, and policemen shared common family ties and common roots in Irish soil. Having themselves been oppressed, both in their homeland and in Boston, the Catholic Irish and their leaders now banded together to protect their own.45
In spite of this homogeneity and wide-spread support for Coughlin, Cardinal O’Connell was the first Catholic leader to denounce Coughlin. This was significant because Coughlin was, at the time, still getting support from his own archbishop in Detroit. In addition, Coughlin’s rebuke crossed church hierarchical boundaries.46Catholic power is divided up locally so the fact that O’Connell willingly spoke about something not in his jurisdiction was highly unusual. Addressing a group of Catholic dentists in April 1932, Cardinal O’Connell did not lash out against Father Coughlin by name, but condemned “hysterical addresses” by priests who were “talking nonsense.”47 Cardinal O’Connell denounced Father Coughlin again in 1933 and 1934 for his radical ideas, only to receive a flood of angry mail from Boston Catholics. These letters expressed devotion for Father Coughlin and resentment at the cardinal’s status, authority, wealth and influence in the Church.48 After the 1934 mail incident, O’Connell did not denounce Father Coughlin again.49 However, the fact that O’Connell spoke out against Father Coughlin was exceptional, because in later years, he remained silent on many issues regarding Catholic mistreatment of Jews.
Spanish Civil War
Father Coughlin increasingly spoke not only about the threat of Communism, but focused on the atrocities in the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Civil War had perhaps the single most profound effect during this era on Catholic-Jewish relations in America.50 The war began in July 1936 when General Francisco Franco, a Catholic, led a military coup and attempted to overthrow the popularly elected, left-wing Spanish government. Catholics viewed General Franco’s war as the first round in the great struggle against world communism; for liberals, the Spanish Loyalists defended freedom and democracy in the war against fascism.51 Civil war followed, and the Soviet Union backed the established government, known as the Republicans or Loyalists. Nazi Germany and fascist Italy soon became entangled in the war and supplied Franco’s Nationalist army with weapons and men. Religion also divided the two sides; the Nationalists were primarily Catholics, while most Republicans were non-Catholics and belonged to the urban middle-class. Franco, a cruel dictator, rounded up Republicans and systemically shot them. The Republicans committed extensive atrocities and treated priests especially harshly.52 Although the Republican government was never officially Communist, millions of Catholics in America equated it with Russian Bolshevism. The war ended in 1939 when Republican officers surrendered and accepted Franco’s terms.
The war brought Catholic-Jewish animosities into the open throughout America, most notably in Brooklyn and Boston. William Cardinal O’Connell and many other American Catholics supported Franco and his fascist forces in the war. O’Connell and other American Catholic prelates did not fully understand Spanish politics, but they supported Franco because they feared another Mexican Revolution. During the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), the Constitution of 1917 limited the rights of the Catholic Church and many Catholics were killed on Mexican altars.53 American Catholics viewed the Spanish war from a religious perspective; when Franco’s planes bombed and killed a thousand civilians in Barcelona on 18 March 1938, Cardinal O’Connell defended the Generalissimo as a defender of the “Christian civilization in Spain.”54 The war signified the imminence of worldwide communism to Irish Catholics because, “while Socialism, Communism and liberal Brain Trusters threatened tranquility at home, the Civil War seemed to…be an instance in which Godlessness had arrayed itself against Christian order.”55 The Spanish Civil War became a crucial issue in America because the two sides appeared clear-cut. American liberals viewed it as a battle between democracy and fascism. Irish Catholics, in contrast, saw it as a conflict between Christianity and Godless Communism.56
Boston’s Irish complained that Catholic injustices did not receive the attention they deserved in the Boston press. For example, they protested that Catholic persecution in Mexico and the pillaging of churches in Spain were not given the same recognition as Jewish persecution in Germany.57 However, The Pilot, published by the Boston archdiocese, was the one newspaper that regularly covered the war. Irish Catholics used The Pilot as a forum to express the importance of the war and printed stories about the murder of priests, the rape of nuns and the desecration of church property.58 Information from The Pilot was often one-sided, profoundly influencing how Boston Catholics viewed the war. Although neither Cardinal O’Connell nor the editors of The Pilot were antisemitic, many similarities existed between the Boston Irish Catholic perspective and Father Coughlin’s radio speeches about the Spanish Civil War.
The Catholic one-sided approach to the Spanish Civil War resulted in heightened interreligious tensions in Boston. The Hecht Neighborhood House, a Jewish-sponsored community center, illustrated the far-reaching effects of the Spanish Civil War.59 Reports from Helen Saftel, Executive Director of the Hecht Neighborhood House, revealed how the war affected Jewish youth. During a discussion group focusing on Zionism, the teenager participants rejected the topic, contending, “We don’t want to know about it. It’s too unimportant. We want to study something that means more to us.” Saftel asked what that involved and the boys responded decisively: “Spain.”60 While Spain may have been geographically distant from Boston, Jewish youth often felt the antagonisms of the war. The Spanish Civil War was another factor that led to significant Irish Catholic antisemitism in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Catholic-Jewish relations in the context of European affairs
Relations further deteriorated when Europe erupted into world war. Hindsight tells the modern-day historian that the rising tide of American antisemitism paralleled increased national involvement in the European conflagration.61 Antisemitic assaults increased in 1939 in Dorchester, a district split between Irish Catholics and Jews. Avenues during these era were often strict borders. Each group saw each other through a haze of stereotypes and one-dimensional views. A sense of geographic division only further exacerbated relations. Future journalist Theodore White exemplified this sense of separateness:
Within the boundaries of our community [a Jewish ward in Dorchester] we were entirely safe and sheltered. But the boundaries were real. We were an enclave surrounded by the Irish. To the south of us…lived very tough Irish…Across Franklin Park to the west lay the lands of the lace-curtain Irish…South of Mattapan Square there were the original settlers, Protestants…62
A Boston Globe article published in 1940 quoted the American Jewish Congress’ administrative committee in Washington D.C. as saying that the war provided fresh fuel for the anti-Semitic crusade, led primarily by Coughlin, in America.63 The famous isolationist and antisemite Charles Lindbergh, who only a few years earlier accepted a medal from Adolf Hitler, spoke on 16 September 1941. His speech blamed the British, the Roosevelt administration and especially targeted Jews for pushing the United States into war with Germany. “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our Government,” he charged.64 Despite America’s attempt to avoid intervening in the war, the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, following the Pearl Harbor attack.
Irish opposition to communism led to the support of European fascist governments, which further exacerbated the tense relations between Boston’s Irish and Jewish communities. Church leaders excessively preoccupied with anticommunism and isolationism led the Church to dismiss some important issues in the European conflagration.65 The Pilot stressed that no European nation was guiltless of “Hitlerism.” It went so far as to claim that Great Britain and the Soviet Union were as callous as Germany. According to John F. Stack, both Father Coughlin and the editors of The Pilot “accepted the revisionist thesis that British propaganda, organized industrial greed, and pro-British support accounted for American participation in World War I. The Pilot concluded that these same forces were at work [again in World War II].”66
The Christian Front in Boston
As anti-Semitism across America escalated during the war years, the Christian Front was at its peak of activity in Boston. Francis P. Moran led the local chapter and launched Boston’s anti-Semitic campaign on 3 June 1941 when he showed the “gruesome” Nazi propaganda film Sieg in Westen (Victory in the West). He promoted Christian Front activities in Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, not far from the heart of Boston’s major Jewish center.67 Meetings often attracted up to 500 people and were “jammed with frenzied pro-Fascism, hate-the-Jew sermons, and inflammatory speech making.”68 Moran insisted Roosevelt’s real name was “Rosenfelt” and labeled the President a traitor. The meetings began with the “heil Hitler” salute, discussed the threat of Communism and Jews posed and praised the America Firster Charles Lindbergh.69
Although police commissioner Joseph F. Timilty ordered Moran to suspend the Christian Front meetings after the Pearl Harbor attack. However, Moran continued to work for the advancement of Coughlinite and anti-Semitic causes, continuing, for instance, to distribute Coughlin’s Social Justice and various other anti-Semitic publications.70 In October 1940, Coughlin’s followers in the Christian Front organization gathered at the Hotel Westminster to celebrate Coughlin’s birthday.71Although Coughlin was not present at the dinner, the Christian Front showed unwavering support for their leader.72
The Christian Front in Boston also collaborated with chapters in other cities. Some members of the New York Christian Front regularly visited Boston, including Father Edward Lodge Curran, John Henninghan, Jr., George P. Grunning, Jr., and J.P. Moriarity.73 The scheduled appearance of Father Curran as the principal speaker at South Boston’s Evacuation Day Program-St. Patrick’s Day proceedings on 16 March 1942 brought Catholic-Jewish tension to the forefront. Curran served as editor of the Brooklyn Tablet, the largest Catholic weekly in America.74 Evacuation Day commemorated the evacuation of British troops from Boston in 1776. Only four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Irish in South Boston invited Curran, one of America’s most outspoken isolationists and Coughlinites, to celebrate America’s birth of freedom. Many Boston Catholics attended; two thousand people filled the South Boston High School Auditorium to hear Curran’s speech.75 Over a thousand more stood in the gymnasium, where loud speakers had been set up to carry Curran’s address. Boston’s leading politicians were “conveniently” out of town; Mayor Maurice J. Tobin delayed returning to Boston from a Florida vacation and Governor Leverett Saltonstall had another commitment. Cardinal O’Connell, on the other hand, gave official sanction to Father Curran’s appearance, although he did not attend the ceremony.76
The increase of Antisemitism in Boston, 1942-44
Father Curran’s controversial visit occurred as antisemitic attacks in South Boston continued to escalate. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Boston blacked out streets, leading to an increase of incidents at night. Many Irish youth beat up Jewish boys as they left the Hecht Neighborhood House off Blue Hill Avenue – nicknamed “Jew Hill Ave.”77 In his book, International Conflict in an American City, John F. Stack explained why anti-Semitism in Boston flourished during the years between 1942 and 1944:
Without a doubt, the institutional setting of Boston’s Irish community helped to foster, if only through neglect, an atmosphere in which Coughlinite groups thrived on bitterness and frustrations. Explicit anti-Semitism attempted to compensate for many ills of the Irish ghetto – alcoholism, low rates of socioeconomic mobility, and a sense of defeatism and failure. This mood facilitated the frightening outbursts of anti-Semitic activities in 1942 and 1943.78
According to Hecht House reports chronicling the attacks, antisemitism occurred in various places: occasionally Irish boys burst into the community center; Irish Catholic youth also waited outside the house; others experienced anti-Semitism at Dorchester High School. There were at least nineteen reported incidents between July 1943 and September 1943.79 The Irish boys usually outnumbered the Jewish boys and were bigger.
October 1943 brought one of the worst incidents and exemplified just how deeply anti-Semitism ran in Boston. Policemen arrived at the scene where an Irish gang severely beat Jacob Hodas and Harvey Blaustein. Rather than arrest the gang members, the police released them and arrested the two Jewish boys for protesting their decision to let the Irish boys go. The Jewish boys then were held overnight at Police Station 11, where they were called “yellow Jews” and beaten with rubber hoses by officers in the Boston Police Department. After this episode, an Irish Catholic judge proceeded to find Hodas and Blaustein guilty of participation in an “affray” and fined them ten dollars each.80
The Response to Boston’s Antisemitism
Some Catholics expressed their outrage at the incident with antisemitic police officers. After the judge found Hodas and Blaustein guilty, the Globe’s Joseph Dinneen said anti-Semitism was the cornerstone of Fascism” and warned the Boston Irish that
Every time you listen to stories about Jews, and I mean unfavorable stories…you’re listening to Nazi propaganda…No matter what anyone tells you, there are Jewish boys, hundreds of thousands of them fighting and dying in the U.S. Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force, so you can grow up in the kind of free world your fathers knew.81
Frances Sweeney, a well-known liberal Catholic, who advanced democratic causes in Boston, was not afraid to place blame. “These attacks on Jewish children are the complete responsibility of Governor Saltonstall, Mayor Tobin, the church and the clergy – all of whom have for three years buck-passed and ignored the tragedy.”82Frances Sweeney was an important figure in exposing corruption throughout these years. Sweeney’s publication, the Boston City Reporter, reported on antisemitism, which Boston newspapers often neglected to cover. Sweeney dedicated herself to uncovering antisemitism and to showing how the Catholic Church in Boston was indifferent to the antisemitic attacks.”83 Sweeney expressed furor that Boston was the most antisemitic city in the country and noted that Catholics themselves had been stigmatized in earlier years. She recalled the humiliation of the statement ‘No dogs or Irish allowed!’ “Don’t you remember?” she asked her fellow Catholics, including priests. Her criticism of the Catholic Church eventually brought her face-to-face with Cardinal O’Connell, as recalled by Nat Hentoff:
In the Boston City Reporter, Fran Sweeney asked Cardinal O’Connell, again and again, when he would tell the faithful, without equivocation, to stop persecuting the Jews.
At last the Cardinal was heard from. He summoned Fran Sweeney to his presence. I had never seen her afraid before, but when she left that morning, she was pale and stiff with foreboding…He [O’Connell] had had enough, however, of this woman hectoring him about the so-called weakness of his response to Coughlin and his response to this thing among the faithful about the Jews…
She would not promise to stop what the Cardinal called her recklessly irresponsible attacks on the Church. She had gone beyond all permissible, indeed rational, grounds, the Cardinal had told her. The facts are the facts, she replied. Silence is a fact, she added, especially when it comes from on high. Freezingly, from a great distance, William Cardinal O’Connell informed this young woman that if her defiance continued, she could be in peril of excommunication…84
Despite Sweeney and Dinneen’s efforts, the anti-Semitic attacks in South Boston largely fell upon deaf ears or ears unwilling to listen (as seen through Frances Sweeney’s encounter with Cardinal O’Connell). Numerous historians have criticized Cardinal O’Connell for his failure to condemn anti-Semitism. His silence had allowed Coughlin’s newspaper, Social Justice, to be sold outside every Catholic Church in the Boston Archdiocese until Attorney General Biddle suppressed Social Justice for its seditious contents in 1942.85 In addition, he did nothing significant to thwart the Christian Front activities.
O’Connell’s silence concerning the local Irish attacks on Blue Hill Avenue has been compared to Pope Pius XII’s failure to condemn Hitler’s concentration camps.86O’Connell did not appear to have much communication with Jews, other than a few official letters when he invited rabbis and Jewish leaders to his Golden Jubilee in 1934 or other celebratory occasions.87 Some might even argue that this lack of contact between Cardinal O’Connell and Jewish leaders was symbolic of two thousand years of anti-Judaic policies within the Roman Catholic Church.88O’Connell’s silence characterized the tension between Boston Catholics and Jews during this turbulent period. John F. Stack’s book on Boston concurred:
Without a doubt, the lack of constructive ethnic leadership in Boston’s Irish community facilitated the outbursts of anti-Jewish and antiliberal hysteria in the 1940s. The church, socioeconomic elites and the political establishment of Irish Boston embraced a strident and shrill defensiveness that the impact of the international system – particularly communist inroads in Mexico and Spain, the Spanish Civil War, and the end of American isolationism – brought to a frenzied pitch. Rather than promoting an outlook that emphasized the common humanity of all persecuted peoples, the leadership of Irish Boston felt compelled to assert a sort of collective whine – emphasizing over and over again the slights and insensitivities of liberal American Jews and WASPs towards the sufferings of Irish Catholics.89
Recognition of antisemitism in Boston
Leaders of Boston’s Jewish community mobilized as the violence escalated. Boston’s Jewish community hoped politicians would acknowledge the reality of anti-Semitism in the Hub. They confronted Boston Police Commissioner Joseph T. Timilty with evidence and specific cases of anti-Semitism. City Councilor Charles I. Taylor, the representative of Jewish neighborhoods at City Hall, substantiated their claims of anti-Semitism.90 Lilian S. Gurvitz, counsel for the New England Division of the American Jewish Congress, illustrated the vitality of antisemitism in Boston. She admitted the American Jewish Congress had been collecting affidavits from victims of anti-Semitism in the area for over a year. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith also became involved in the struggle to prove to Boston’s political leadership that antisemitism existed.91
After years of neglect by the metropolitan press and the city authorities, a breakthrough occurred on 18 October 1943 when PM in New York ran the story, “CHRISTIAN FRONT HOODLUMS TERRORIZE BOSTON JEWS” on its front page. The next day Governor Saltonstall made it clear he felt irked by the article and said that he only recently learned of the Dorchester incidents. However, he acknowledged PM’s revelations and ordered the police commissioner to increase the Dorchester patrol. The Governor also directed Public Safety Commissioner John F. Stokes to investigate the claim.92 After a survey of some 40 antisemitic incidents dating from January 1942 through September 1943, Stokes found a police brutality problem, but denied they were of antisemitic origin. Attorney General Robert T. Bushnell looked further into the problem and placed blame on the “progressive disintegration of law enforcement in Boston.” Several members of the Boston Police Department were guilty of assaulting Jews. Governor Saltonstall fired Joseph T. Timilty, the Boston Police Commissioner.93 Tom Sullivan then became the new Police Commissioner on 26 November 1943.94
Late in the war, O’Connell also demonstrated a few signs of wanting to help Jews in distress, although he remained apathetic toward antisemitism in Boston.95 Cardinal O’Connell condemned Nazi theories of racism, antisemitism and neo-paganism. In addition, he joined the National Committee Against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews.96 Formed under the leadership of Norman L. Littell, Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice, and Supreme Court Justice Bishop Frank Murphy, the committee sought to arouse public opinion against the treatment of Jews in Europe and America. However, Murphy and Littell only formed the organization in late January 1944, which was almost too late to stop the mass extermination of European Jewry and the committee suffered from a lack of insufficient support.97
The peak in 1944
Despite the recognition of antisemitism in 1943, antisemitism persisted, and actually grew; 1944 saw the greatest number of anti-Semitic attacks in Boston during the era. This concurred with Edward Shapiro’s opinion expressed in A Time for Healing, American Jewry Since World War II, that “modern American anti-Semitism peaked in 1944.”98 Both Boston police and parents showed themselves to be unsympathetic to anti-Semitism. After a May 1944 attack at Dorchester High School, some Jewish parents refused to send their children to school the following day. Later one of the attackers told the Jewish boys, “Tonight we are going to get rid of all the Cohens and Goldbergs.”99 Authorities notified the Irish parents about the incident. They allegedly responded by saying the attack did not surprise them because their boys had committed previous assaults. They even went so far to say they did not feel sorry about the attack.100 Other incidents occurred that month at Dorchester High School. Writings in chalk appeared on toilet walls inside the school that read, “Kill the Jews,” “Down with the Jews,” and “Fuck the Jews.”101
Attacks extended beyond the confines of school incidents. When Catholic youth terrorized three Jewish boys on a train, in May 1944, they refused to get off at a certain T station. The Jewish boys explained to a gentile woman why they did not leave the subway: “Oh no, All these boys live around here. They’ll certainly kill me.” A uniformed employee helped the boys transfer to another train safely and when another bystander offered them money to see a doctor, the boys refused the offer because they felt afraid to go to a hospital.102 Nat Hentoff attended Boston Latin School and recalled how some fellow Jews in his neighborhood disapproved of Jewish boys being educated so far away from Roxbury-Dorchester. He explained his similar threatening experiences on subways:
Distant not so much geographically, though Avenue Louis Pasteur was a far piece from Roxbury. But distant from Judaism…They might have been right if Boston Latin School had been all the world we knew. But on the trolley cars coming home, some of the parochial school boys growlingly reminded us we were Jewish, and back in Roxbury, at night, it was still foolish to go out in the dark alone. Back home, it still made a big difference where, in the old country, your parents were from.103
With O’Connell remaining conspicuously silent about antisemitism in the Hub, Boston’s Catholic Mayor Maurice Tobin also refused to take the anti-Semitic attacks in the city seriously. A lengthy article published in the 14 October 1944 Pilotsimilarly minimized the disturbances. Dorothy G. Wayman wrote “that the real problem – in Boston and all American cities today – is juvenile delinquency.”104She further disclaimed Catholic responsibility for the anti-Semitic crimes by arguing that, “There are good Americans and bad Americans; good Catholics and bad Catholics. Some Irish-American Catholics commit crimes; other Irish Catholics work all their lives to prevent and punish crime.”
Despite the recognition of antisemitism in 1943 and 1944 by Catholic and Boston authorities, antisemitism persisted and relations between Jews and Catholics remained uneasy toward the end of the war. Both groups suffered from a lack of ecclesiastical leadership to confront problems. While Cardinal O’Connell decried Father Coughlin’s hysterical addresses and showed no public signs of being antisemitic, tension with the Jewish community continued over various international issues. These included the threat of communist expansion, the Church’s support for political isolationism and the persecution of the Catholic Church in Spain and Mexico.105 As a center of “Coughlinism and America Firstism,” Boston’s intense parochialism hindered change in the Catholic-Jewish relationship. However, as international conflicts subsided in 1945, Catholic-Jewish relations began a new era, characterized by a more tolerant coexistence. During the post-World War II period, Jews and Catholics in Boston strengthened their leadership and began confronting the issues that had so bitterly divided them between the 1930s and early 1940s.
As the tide of World War II turned in 1944, so did Boston Catholic-Jewish relations. As Allied armies swept across the D-Day beaches and re-captured Vichy France from the Axis Powers, the changing dynamics of Boston’s religious leadership promised a new beginning. The year 1944 saw a climax of antisemitic attacks in Boston; it was not coincidental that the worst year in Catholic-Jewish relations also set the stage for changes. The alarming number of antisemitic fights prompted Boston’s Jewish leadership to reorganize and form the Boston Jewish Community Council in 1944. At the same time, Archbishop Richard J. Cushing entered office upon the death of his predecessor, Cardinal O’Connell. Cushing’s accession marked a new beginning for Boston Catholics and Jewish relations.
This chapter will explore how Boston Catholic-Jewish relations between 1944 through 1958 chartered a new course. No longer strained by international events, Boston’s Catholics and Jews exhibited less hostility towards each other. World War II had a profound impact on interreligious relations and made bigotry less acceptable. Additionally, Jewish organizations became more aggressive in combating antisemitism during these years. Thus, when antisemitism resurged in Boston between 1949 and 1951, Jewish organizations were better prepared to deal with the problem and, as such, persuaded Boston’s mayor to form a council addressing antisemitism and broader civic concerns. Two important trends of the post-war era, suburbanization and the rise of the Protestant-Catholic-Jewish ideology, reshaped relations nationally and in Boston. The rapport between Abram Sachar, first President of Brandeis University, and Archbishop Cushing helped bridge differences between the two communities. One major point of contention during this period involved Cushing’s excommunication of Father Feeney, a Jesuit priest. The Feeney affair provided a case study of how precarious relations remained in Boston during the 1950s. Despite many promising trends, however, change evolved slowly during these transition years.
Archbishop Cushing’s interfaith work
On 28 September 1944, Pope Pius XII named Richard J. Cushing as Boston’s new archbishop. Despite his reputation as an effective administrator, the news surprised many Catholics because Cushing had not attended the North American College as had other Catholic prelates.1 Furthermore, Cushing had never been to Europe, he did not speak any foreign languages, and had no personal friends in the Vatican. His background contrasted sharply with Cardinal O’Connell, a “prince” of the Catholic Church. Although both grew up in working-class homes, O’Connell increasingly flaunted his wealth as he gained prominence, while Cushing retained his South Boston roots. Described as “a crusty and completely unpredictable cleric from South Boston…with his gruff affability and down-to-earth humor, [Cushing] contrasted sharply with the rather pious pomposity of his predecessor…”2 In addition to their lifestyles, O’Connell and Cushing conducted Church affairs in very dissimilar manners: “Whereas O’Connell represented the Roman Catholic Church, imperial and imperious, hostile to much of the American experience, Cushing came to personify a native faith, consistent with the pragmatic, self-reliant, and democratic spirit of the new world,” J. Anthony Lukas wrote.3
As a proponent of ecumenism, Cushing promoted understanding between Catholics, Protestants and Jews.4 After assuming office, he promised to refrain from “all argument with our non-Catholic neighbors and from all purely defensive talk about Catholicism.”5 He declared in the Boston Post:
We shall encourage everything we believe to be for the glory of God…and we shall be ‘anti’ to every ‘anti’ movement that reflects against the Fatherhood of G-d and the brotherhood of man…For this reason, we are anti-anti-Semitic, anti-anti-Catholic, anti-anti-Protestant, and anti-anti-Negro…6
Unlike Cardinal O’Connell, Cushing pursued an intimate relationship with Boston Jews. Cushing had many personal experiences with Jews; his sister married a Jew, whom the archbishop fondly called, “The best Christian I know.”7 According to Professor Lawrence H. Fuchs, who worked personally and professionally with Cushing, “Cushing was a philo-Semite. He liked Jews. He told me in one conversation the person he loved the most in his family was his brother-in-law, who was Jewish.”8
Archbishop Cushing spoke at the thirteenth annual goodwill dinner at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline in 1946. Many priests and rabbis attended to honor chaplains of all faiths who gave their lives during the war. Cushing delivered the principal address to an audience of 1500 people. It was a milestone in community relations, because as Isadore Zack, the Civil Rights Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith from 1946 until 1980, recalled:
Cushing created quite a stir when he went to Temple Ohabei Shalom – Imagine that – a brotherhood dinner. I was there when Ben Shapiro asked Cushing, ‘Would you like to see the Holy Ark?’ Standing next to Cushing were three important Catholic laymen: Joe Cronin, Manager of the Red Sox; Michael T. Kelleher, a big Catholic in Boston and the editor of The Pilot, Francis Lally. This was a time when Catholics just didn’t go into synagogues officially. Cushing said he would love to see the ark.9
The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston
The formation of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston in 1944 paralleled Cushing’s elevation as archbishop. In a 20 July 1944 letter to Governor Leverett Saltonstall, Casper M. Grosberg, Council president, explained the formation of the council.10 (See appendix) Formally created on 6 April 1944, the organization served as an umbrella association, consisting of B’nai B’rith (including the ADL), the American Jewish Congress, Jewish War Veterans, Jewish Labor Committee and the American Jewish Committee.11 Boston Jews formed the council to confront the “long series of attacks upon Jewish youths in the Roxbury-Dorchester-Mattapan-Hyde Park area.”12 Antisemitism took on a new meaning during these years. According to one historian, “After the Holocaust, antisemitism meant not merely the exclusion of Jews from clubs, exclusive neighborhoods and elite colleges. It also involved mass murder. To accept quietly any form of antisemitism, many believed, would be a cowardly betrayal of the six million European Jewish victims of Hitler.”13
The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston worked as a central body with a unified approach to confront problems. After two decades of rampant antisemitism, Boston Jewish leadership better prepared themselves to aggressively confront the problem. As it grew through the years, the council also formed many important sub-committees, including Church-State Problems, Intergroup Problems, Discrimination, Defamation and Public Relations. In addition, the council possessed the authority to establish official Jewish policy. Isadore Zack stressed the importance of policy in a big city. “The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston had a circle of prestige. They had representatives from all kinds of Jewish organizations there. But what was made there was official Jewish policy.”14 Robert E. Segal, Executive Director from 1944-1972, served as the spokesman for the Jewish community.15 As a close correspondent with Archbishop Cushing, he played a key role in the Jewish community’s relationship with Cushing and Catholics.
The impact of World War II and the decline of antisemitism
World War II had profound consequences for Boston Catholics and Jews and important implications for cultural pluralism in America. On the surface level, it brought Americans of various backgrounds together. In August 1945, immediately prior to the Japanese surrender, the Army publication Yank asked American soldiers, “What changes would you like to see made in post-war America?” A majority of GI’s agreed “the need for wiping out racial and religious discrimination” was their major goal.16 The GI Bill of Rights later brought people together in various “arenas of interaction.”17 Soldiers who fought side by side now had the opportunity to obtain an education together.
Ideologically, the impact of thousands of young men going to fight a terrible tyrant – and knowing that such tyranny was based upon antisemitism, had profound effects. According to Monsignor Peter Conley, editor of The Pilot and himself a pastor, the awareness of the Holocaust demanded reflection in various Christian communities. Contemplating such thoughts, many Christians were forced to examine antisemitism, the dark side of Christian history.18 Professor Lawrence Fuchs stressed the importance of American soldiers fighting Fascism, Nazism, and antisemitism and how these factors changed Christian attitudes towards Jews in postwar America.
American Jewry emerged from the war with the belief they were no longer a religious minority, but part of American culture.19 Less than a week after the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945, an event occurred in Atlantic City, New Jersey that prefigured the American Jewish postwar condition. Bess Myerson of the Bronx, New York became the first (and as of today, only) Jewish Miss America. This title was important because according to historian Edward Shapiro,
A Jew had received the most important American award for beauty at the same time that the remnants of continental European Jewry were attempting to recover from the greatest tragedy in Jewish history. The selection of Bess Myerson as Miss America signaled the postwar movement of American Jews into the American mainstream.20
Nationally, antisemitism also began to decline after World War II. Although it never completely disappeared, it became a less socially acceptable aspect of American life. One specific aspect of American Jewry was their rise in society. Jews began moving into the cultural, economic and social mainstream during the postwar years. The ADL remarked how little antisemitism appeared in the various election campaigns of 1948 compared to those in 1940 and 1944.21
While Bess Myerson received her crown and antisemitism began to decline, Hank Greenberg was at the apex of his career as the most prominent American Jewish athlete. He was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1935 and 1940. He almost surpassed Babe Ruth’s home-run record in 1938. In 1956, Greenberg became the first Jew elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His religion strengthened his commitment to baseball. He said, “I just had to show them that a Jew could play ball…I came to feel that if I, as a Jew, hit a home run, I was hitting one against Hitler.”22 Myerson and Greenberg symbolized the increasing integration of American Jews in postwar society. Although they were not central figures in the Boston Catholic-Jewish story, they illustrate the greater Jewish acceptance that, in time, affected Boston as well.
A United States postal stamp issued in 1948 also illustrated greater acceptance of Jews in America. A symbol of interfaith harmony was crystallized when the Axis Powers torpedoed the famous military transport ship SS Dorchester in the north Atlantic in 1943. After giving their life supporters to passengers, the chaplains aboard went down with the ship, supposedly with their arms linked together. One of these chaplains was Rabbi Alexander Goode. A 1948 U.S. postage stamp commemorated the heroism and unity of the chaplains. The stamp showed the faces of the four chaplains, a sinking ship and a life preserver floating in water. The stamp read, “These IMMORTAL CHAPLAINS… INTERFAITH IN ACTION.”23
Resurgence of antisemitism
Despite the overall decline in antisemitism, the years between 1949 and 1951 saw many physical attacks with strong antisemitic overtones in the Dorchester-Mattapan-Hyde Park-Roxbury area (see map in appendix). Surprisingly, the years between 1950-52 had more attacks per year than the earlier peak in 1944. Attacks on Blue Hill Avenue, cemetery desecrations in Melrose and physical assaults on Jews of all ages permeated the summer months of 1950.24 An assault in August 1950 characterized the brutality of the attacks. A young man attacked World War I and II veterans. According to a Civic Defense-Public Relations Committee, coordinated by the Jewish Community Council, the report described how
[One of the youths] called him obscene anti-Semitic names and grabbed him…the youths had made a vicious attack on [him]. [His] injuries, displayed in court, were ghastly even a week after the attack. [He], who stated the youths kicked him continuously for ten minutes, told the court that the youths ‘threatened to kill every Jew in Suffolk Square.’25
The Civic Defense-Public Relations Committee met regularly to discuss the Dorchester incidents. The Jewish Community Council and the ADL conducted a survey of the antisemitic attacks in an attempt to explore the root of the resurgent antisemitism. Archbishop Cushing did not take action or denounce the attacks.26 A agenda from a 13 November 1951 meeting compared the Boston incidents to those in other cities.27 They found:
During the past 12 months alone we have recorded 24 incidents of varying degrees of seriousness…
All in all, the 1950-51 period is without question the most discouraging since the 1942-43 difficulties.
The question might well be asked—Is Boston’s problem unique? A check of other Jewish Community Councils indicated only two other trouble spots—Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Philadelphia reports 11 anti-Semitic incidents for a recent 12-month period…Brooklyn reports 12 anti-Semitic incidents for the year.28
The rise in antisemitism in Boston during these years is puzzling. Nothing significant occurred in Boston to encourage antisemitism, but nationally, the rise of anti-Communism threatened Christian-Jewish relations.29 Antisemites had long insisted that Jews and Communism were linked and it was common knowledge that Jews comprised a disproportionate number in the American Communist Party for decades. Even though most Jews were not Communists, the “Red Scare” proved an unsettling time for American Jews.30 Antisemitic agitators intensified their verbal attacks that American Jews worked as Soviet agents and were communists. Some respectable organizations and people may have been more tolerant of antisemitism because they were anti-Communist.31 The Anna Rosenberg case provided one example of how people in respectable circles accepted antisemitic propaganda. Not long after the government announced that Anna M. Rosenberg had been nominated for Assistant Secretary of Defense, several antisemitic publications accused Rosenberg of being a Communist. These accusations led the Senate to stall on Rosenberg’s confirmation.32
The presidential campaign in 1952 also provided bigots an opportunity to spread their views. Virtually all antisemitic propaganda warned of the “Jewish world conspiracy” and emphasized the supposed Jewish-Communist connection. There was a considerable amount of antisemitism in the year before the 1952 political conventions and, later, throughout the campaign. Evidence of this appeared during the first presidential primary conducted in New Hampshire in March 1952. Antisemitic literature attacking Eisenhower flooded the state. Furthermore, antisemitic propaganda was distributed at the Republican Convention held in Chicago in July 1952.33
Another plausible explanation for the rise in antisemitism looked to the Middle East. Since Israel’s emergence as a Jewish state in 1948, Middle Eastern politics may have influenced antisemitism in America. For instance, the Arab strategy against Israel aimed to undermine the status of the American Jewish Committee. To some extent, antisemitic publications during this period adopted a pro-Arab viewpoint.34
While Boston remained a focal city of antisemitic attacks in the early 1950s, the effectiveness and importance of the Boston Jewish Community Council provided a marked contrast with earlier incidents. For example, during one of attacks in the summer of 1950, the Anti-Defamation League provided a lawyer for a Jewish family. It also aggressively confronted the mayor about the attacks; soon thereafter, the Jewish Community Council sent a letter to Mayor-elect John Hynes suggesting the creation of a committee on human relations. The Council cited the need for such a committee because of a recent fight in Hyde Park in November 1950 when police arrested twenty-five teenagers.35 Convinced that Boston needed such an organization, the mayor formed a civic committee in January 1951.36 The Mayor’s Committee worked primarily with the Greater Boston Council for Youth, the Intergroup Relations Council and the Committee to Combat Vandalism.
In addition to prompting the Mayor’s Civic Committee, the Civic Defense-Public Relations Committee of the Boston Jewish Community Council combated anti-Semitism through community activities. Some of these included holding community-wide sessions at the Hecht House to discuss incidents, hosting a conference with the Division of Recreation and Group Work of the United Community Services, working in conjunction with the Mayor’s Committee and the police, and coordinating resources with the ADL and the American Jewish Committee.37 Segal explained how the council helped reduce anti-Semitism in Boston:
What factors help to explain the eventual reduction in the gravity of the problem in the area of heavy Jewish population for many years after Christian Front activities diminished? One answer is that some of the top troublemakers had gone off to war. But essentially, it was the constant effort of the Council, who, with the full cooperation of the local and regional offices of the national agencies sought to convince the general community of the need for a broad civic approach. Beginning with an intensive outreach campaign to synagogues and other Jewish units, the Council dispatched speakers, distributed agency literature, set up seminars, and used the media in an intensive educational campaign.38
The Boston Jewish Community Council was not the only organization that emerged after World War II. National Jewish organizations, such as the ADL, grew and expanded their role in fighting antisemitism. Before the war, many ADL branches had been one-man offices.
This period also witnessed the rise of important civil rights groups. Organizations like the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Japanese American Citizens League and other groups contributed to the evolution of interethnic relations in postwar America. But Jewish organizations were among the strongest, according to Leonard Dinnerstein; he argues that no ethnic group had defense agencies as well organized or as well financed as Jewish agencies. The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, and National Community Relations Advisory Council (NCRAC) did the best job of actively conveying their message.39 These organizations all experienced significant staff increases as an influx of young, college-trained experts gradually replaced lay leaders. Professionals came to be called the “Jewish civil service.” Examining the American Jewish Committee, historian Naomi Cohen found “lay policy-making” gave way during the era to “institutional policy” and the professionals “to a large degree…determined strategy and policy.”40 The Jewish civil service used community relation councils, academic research, and legal action to lobby for significant changes in employment, education, and immigration policies. They also made attempts to curb discrimination in housing, universities and social clubs.41
Boston civic agencies
Other Boston organizations established during these years addressed civic concerns. Upon its formation in 1951 in response to antisemitism, the Boston’s Mayor Committee carried out numerous programs, including participating in the National Council of Christian and Jews (NCCJ) Library program called “Expanding Horizons.” It co-sponsored a six-session recreational institute for parents and presented a panel on intergroup relations. The Mayor’s Committee also considered the establishment of a curfew for youth in 1953, but they never implemented such a program. Police officers in training heard Tom Heffernan from the Mayor’s Committee lecture on human relations.
Although the Boston Mayor’s Committee on Civic Improvement attempted to improve intergroup relations and decrease youth violence, some criticized it for not going far enough. One writer from the Jewish Labor Committee Report expressed his frustrations:
I feel the Mayor’s committee is quite inadequate and is afraid to face up to the realities of our community…There is an unfortunate lack of sensitivity on the Committee’s part – and as a result, I gather that most recommendations come from the Jews rather than from Executive Secretary Mullins. Possibly a different Mayor who indicated he considered the Committee important could achieve results.42
The Mayor’s Committee did not stand alone in its attempts to forge community bonds. Organized in 1936, the Massachusetts Committee of Catholics, Protestants and Jews aimed to promote goodwill and foster understanding among citizens of different faiths and racial origins.43 It also planned special activities during Brotherhood Week and encouraged goodwill work in public and parochial schools, nearby universities, in labor unions and in civic organizations. During local elections in 1944, the committee released a statement asking all candidates to refrain from “racial or religious hatred or prejudice” in their campaigns.44 The committee also offered scholarships for teachers to take courses at Boston University focusing on ethnic and human relations. One of their most publicized events included an annual goodwill dinner. In 1945 the annual Massachusetts Committee of Catholics, Protestants and Jews dinner honored Archbishop Cushing, only one year after he entered office. Cushing received the award because he was a “genius in the field of human relations.”
Despite such initiatives, both the Massachusetts Committee of Catholics, Protestants and Jews and the Mayor’s Committee on Civic Improvement received criticism for their superficiality. Other than a few programs and annual dinners, they were not aggressive and ignored many other community affairs, according to Isadore Zack.45 Although the Massachusetts Committee honored distinguished religious leaders or politicians at its elaborate annual dinner, it remained conspicuously silent during the years of anti-Semitic attacks in South Boston. Nor did it take action on the Father Feeney affair, a case study that will be examined later.46
The creation of community organizations altered local politics while suburbanization transformed Boston’s demographics. The mobility of Americans during the post World War II era was an unprecedented phenomenon. Between 1948 and 1958, twelve million Americans moved to the suburbs.47 Suburbanization recreated America, and especially affected Boston, a city that has probably undergone more radical physical and demographical change than any other American city.48
The rise in automobiles owned, the post-war economic boom and the GI Bill all contributed to the growth of suburbs. The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the GI Bill, assisted war veterans. It entitled anyone with ninety days of service to one year of higher education; by the time the original GI Bill expired in 1952, some 2.25 million veterans had attended college.49 The GI Bill also helped veterans buy homes through subsidized mortgages, which also contributed to the rise of suburbs.
Americans moved to the suburbs as they became more educated and wealthy. Many Jews and Catholics had moved to Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan around the turn of the century; the area, where streets represented strict borders between Catholics and Jews, was home to about half the Boston Jewish population.50 Many Jews left the area following World War II. Catholics remained and African-Americans began moving in, giving rise to the tensions that exploded in the 1970s over school desegregation and bussing.51 Jews began their exodus to Brookline as early at the 1920s, and also moved during the post World War II years to Newton, Brighton, Allston, Milton, Swampscott and Chelsea. In Newton alone, Jewish population nearly quadrupled in size in the 1950s through the early 1960s.52Gerald Gamm argued that Catholics tended to stay in the Dorchester-Roxbury area because they were tied to their local parish.53 Catholics had a stronger sense of turf and their membership rules, their sense of rootedness, and authority governed where they lived.
Suburbanization transformed how ethnic groups operated and interacted with each other.54 One important characteristic of suburbs was their economic and racial homogeneity.55 When the Jews left the Roxbury-Dorchester-Mattapan area, they moved into heavily Jewish suburbs like Brookline and Newton. Boston Catholics and Jews no longer lived in such close proximity and this separation was an important factor in the easing of religious bias.
America’s three great faiths
Another important trend during the postwar years included the rise of the Protestant-Catholic-Jewish ideology. World War II had an important impact on the new religious climate, as numerous interdenominational activities brought Catholics, Protestants and Jews together. During their years in the army, many soldiers attended Mass in the same multipurpose chapel where both Jewish and Protestant services were also conducted. Times were changing, according to historian Thomas O’Connor; “Suddenly the old way of doing things just didn’t seem the same any more; the old restrictions and formalities seemed ridiculously out of date.”56 The postwar economic boom also shaped newer generations of Catholics. They increasingly attended university, rose to middle class ranks, were less defensive about their ethnic heritage and less parochial or unwavering in their religious beliefs.
In the 1950s sociologists popularized the three-generation-immigrant model. The paradigm suggested that when immigrants arrived in the United States, Americans expected them to adapt their nationality, language and culture. Religion remained the only acceptable form of identification and the link between religion and ethnicity remained tightly bound in Boston for the first few generations.57 The second generation remained caught in between the two worlds, but it was the third generation who differed because they often sought a return to their roots. In doing so, this third generation identified with religion in the 1950s.58 However, this does not suggest an affiliation with a particular church; rather, it implied belonging to one of America’s major religions as a means of self-identification. Will Herberg’s 1955 book Protestant-Catholic-Jew was one of the most influential postwar books written about the sociology of American religion. Herberg also argued grandchildren of the nineteenth and twentieth century immigrants changed the way Americans answered the question, “Who am I?” Rather than describing themselves as Irish, Russian or Polish, they thought of themselves in religious terms. They were either Catholics, Protestants or Jews. As Jews increasingly gained acceptance as one of America’s three great faiths, the United States ceased to be viewed as an exclusively Christian nation.59
Other factors prompted the swing toward religion in postwar America. The Cold War, a battle the West fought against Communism, brought religion to the forefront. The Cold War had a paradoxical effect on Catholic-Jewish relations. It increased antisemitic agitation over the Jewish-Communism link, yet it also was seen as the enemy of both democracy and religion. Some clerical leaders viewed religion as “America’s strongest weapon against atheistic Communism.”60Confronted with the hydrogen bomb and mounting national insecurity, Will Herberg found, “we are driven to look beyond the routine ideas and attitudes that may have served in easier times…In the midst of our prosperity, we need, desperately need, reassurance and the promise of peace.”61
As Jewish-Catholic relations began to improve across America, Protestants and Catholics simultaneously entered an ecumenical age, according to O’Connor, which promised great advances in mutual understanding between Christians.62 Interfaith movements actually began as early as the 1920s, when the National Council of Christians and Jews established in 1928 to support brotherhood and co-operation among Protestants, Catholics and Jews.63 However, it was not until the 1950s that interfaith movements spread rapidly as a result of World War II and the Cold War. The Cold War and the co-existence of Protestants, Catholics and Jews gave way to a post-World War II America (1945-1975) “to a thirty-year period of religious ecumenism and theological détente.”64
Archbishop Cushing, Abram Sachar and the Brandeis University Chapels
Running parallel with a revival of religion, Boston’s religious leaders played a monumental role in improving Catholic-Jewish relations. Cushing’s relationship with Abram Sachar, first president of Brandeis University, exemplified how the archbishop bridged relations with the Jewish community. Archbishop Cushing maintained close ties with Sachar and supported Brandeis University. When Brandeis, the first non-sectarian Jewish sponsored university, opened its doors in 1948, it also became an experiment in interfaith relations.65 Brandeis was the first university that built three separate chapels in 1955; anticipating Herberg’s belief that Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism were America’s three great religions. According to President Sachar,
In this way, there is emphasis on the equality of all creeds rather than the pseudo-liberalism of a ‘least common denominator tolerance.’ The pattern to be developed faithfully mirrors the University’s pan-sectarian principle while preserving the integrity of each form of religious worship.66
Brandeis’ tri-faith approached attracted many respected Catholics, including the former governor of Massachusetts, Paul Dever, who accepted the honorary chairmanship of the Catholic Chapel. Louis Perini, one of America’s great building contractors, accepted the active chairmanship of the Chapel.67 Archbishop Cushing gave the vestments as a personal gift. Indeed, Cushing suggested the chapel be named “Bethlehem Chapel.” The fact that Archbishop Cushing had the honor of naming the chapel illustrated how highly Boston Jews regarded him. Cushing avoided the traditional method of naming a chapel after a saint because many saints had anti-Judaic policies in Biblical times.68 As a result, he selected “Bethlehem” as a positive and neutral name. Bethlehem was, according to Father Bob Bullock who consecrated the altar in spring 1955, “just the right name for that place.”69 After the completion of the chapels in 1955, Brandeis attracted a lot of local and national publicity. Life magazine ran a piece in their November 1955 issue on the interfaith chapels. According to Life, harmony between religious groups “found a unique expression at a university which itself had been founded seven years ago as a unique experiment in education.”70 In addition to Life, the Massachusetts Committee, Catholics, Protestants and Jews paid tribute to the three chapels in their May 1955 dinner invitation for the annual meeting.71
Archbishop Cushing’s support of the three Brandeis chapels paralleled his larger interest in bridging Catholics and Jews. Ecumenism did not come easily to Boston, a city where Catholics remembered the “No Irish Need Apply” signs, Protestants feared a Papal conspiracy and where Jews were the victims of anti-Semitic attacks. With Cushing’s charismatic personality, he often appeared in the media and was well known throughout Boston.72 A founding member of the Catholic-Jewish Committee credited Cushing with prompting “the beginning of change” in Boston.73Archbishop Cushing’s dynamic leadership ushered in a new era devoted to interreligious awareness and harmony. Unlike Cardinal O’Connell, Cushing spoke at hundreds of goodwill dinners and at Jewish events. Local newspapers covered his interactions with Jews and Protestants. His influence was profound, according to a journalist:
It is, in fact, Richard Cushing more than any other single person who has helped to thaw the religious climate of Boston, once the capital of Protestant Puritanism with a subculture of Irish Catholic immigrant who were kept firmly in their own low social status. Cushing’s predecessor, William Cardinal O’Connell was credited with bringing the church out of the catacombs in Boston; but he was a cold, scholarly, austere prelate…74
Cushing’s personality and way of life helped bridge Boston Catholics and Jews, according to Mr. Zack. “By his own actions he did a lot to bring Jews and Catholics together. By where he went and what he said…He didn’t write any books, he did it by his own personal life,” Zack explained.75 Cushing strove to show similarities between Jews and Christians. He did so by constantly referring to Christian theology and citing how Jews and Catholics shared the same forefathers. By doing so, he helped destroy many of the invisible barriers that separated Catholics from their non-Catholic neighbors.
Tension persists in Boston
Despite many promising trends and leaders in the 1950s, the Boston Catholic-Jewish relationship remained turbulent over some issues. The Communist threat, public observation of Christian holidays and the controversies over Father Feeney exemplified the precariousness of relations. As in earlier years, Jewish conflicts with the Boston archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, hindered Catholic-Jewish reconciliation. In a series of nasty editorials, Rabbi Shubow, former president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Boston, attacked The Pilot for its coverage and defense of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. However, the situation escalated because The Pilot refused to publish his editorial; instead, Shubow sent his article to the Jewish Advocate. In his editorial, Shubow asked, “Are you blind to the fact that McCarthy is a native tyrannical dictator in the making? Would you really prefer a totalitarian government to one of free speech and all the other fundamental freedoms of our country?”76 Not only was Shubow upset about The Pilot’s coverage of McCarthy, but also expressed anger at The Pilot’s refusal to publish his piece.
Archbishop Cushing did not intervene during the episode, perhaps because he was preoccupied with anti-Communism. Cushing ran a series on Communism in the Boston American and endorsed the John Birch Society. Cushing’s strongly anti-Communist stance was one of the only instances where the Jewish community openly disagreed with him. The Jewish Community Council wrote to Cushing about some disturbing references in his series on Communism. Some points it protested included: the assertion that Leon Trotsky’s “real name was Leonard Bernstein;” Cushing’s recommendation of reading the American Mercury’s recent issues (the current issue quoted an alleged U.S. War Department Attorney as saying “there was no gas chamber in Dachau”); and the suggestion that Boston Catholics read John Beaty’s Iron Curtain Over America, which one Methodist minister called “the most extensive piece of anti-Semitic literature in the history of America’s racist movement.”77 Cushing wrote back immediately and apologized, but the tension in Boston over Communism persisted throughout the 1950s.78
Less political issues also surfaced. The Pilot occasionally ran stories about the public celebration of Christian holidays. In an editorial about Christmas in Chelsea, one writer felt the Christmas dilemma over decorations and public nativity scenes could have important repercussions for Catholic-Jewish relations. The writer found it “hard to believe that the traditional singing of Christmas songs will make many Jewish children ‘unhappy’.”79
The Feeney affair
The most sordid shadow lurking throughout much of the decade came from Father Leonard Feeney, S.J., director of the Saint Benedict Center in Cambridge. The Center opened in 1942 as a religious and social meeting house for students at Harvard, Radcliffe and other Cambridge schools and colleges. Feeney was popular at Harvard, but his views and interpretations of Church texts grew increasingly controversial. Feeney’s behavior also became more erratic, and, by the late 1940s, some had observed his change in behavior. The author Evelyn Waugh wrote in a letter that the most disturbing event he saw in Boston involved his visit to Father Feeney, S.J. at Harvard:
I went one morning by appointment and found him surrounded by a court of bemused youths of both sexes and he stark, raving mad. All his converts have chucked their Harvard careers and go to him only for all instruction. He fell into a rambling denunciation of all secular learning, which gradually became more and more violent.80
As Feeney’s behavior became more inconsistent, Feeney was no longer accepted in the Catholic mainstream because of his interpretation of the Church doctrine, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (‘no salvation outside the Church’). He believed that this phrase meant that all non-Catholics were damned.81 His preached this Church doctrine in a narrow, restrictive and exclusivist way, which conflicted with Church teachings in the 1950s. The doctrine was an official church formulation, dating back to the second century. The problem was not that Feeney preached the doctrine, but in his narrow interpretation that no one outside the Catholic Church was unable to gain salvation.
Feeney’s meetings occurred regularly during the early 1950s. Feeney’s followers, who dressed in black outer garments and called themselves “Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” attended the Sunday meetings. They resembled a cult.82 Mrs. Grace Uberti, a lay woman who recorded the Boston Common meetings, estimated some of the meetings to have as many as 1,500 people in the audience. She originally began attending his rallies because this was the only time she could attempt to speak with her daughter, who was a slave.83 Uberti wrote notes in shorthand and later typed them and sent copies to both the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston and the Archdiocese of Boston. According to these reports, Feeney often attacked Jews:
“The Jews have taken over this city…” (14 September 1952)84
“I would rather be a bad Catholic than any Jew in existence.” (19 October 1952)85
“Every Protestant hates the Jews. HARVARD loathes Jews. That is why they got a new President – to keep the Jews away. I don’t hate Jews for the reason he hates them. I hate them because they hate Jesus. They hate Jesus because they are JEWS!” (9 August 1953)86
“Those kikes are from Hillel House. I warn you of what the Jews are going to do to the Catholic City of Boston. In every city you see a new synagogue being built in a Christian country…If I sent Catholics over to heckle Rabbi Shubow, Fingold [Attorney General] would send the police in and have them in jail. But over here in front of the picture of the sacred heart of Mary these Jews are yelling every single filthy thing – every blasphemous word, on Sunday in a Catholic city.” (31 July 1955)87
However, Feeney did not limit his attacks to Jews. He also sharply criticized Protestants and Catholics:
“Archbishop Cushing is a heretic. I didn’t say it behind his back; I said it to his face.” (28 September 1952)88
“Every Catholic knows that I speak the truth…The Protestants of America are seeing the faith weaken in America…Massachusetts is a state with a Catholic governor, a Catholic lieutenant, and the wealthiest Archbishop in the world…yet people come here and say that Our Lady is not a virgin and not the mother of G-d…And when a Catholic priest tries to defend her, he is called a hate-priest…” (12 October 1952)89
“Here you have me in a Catholic city being spit at and sneered at. I would like to profess my Catholic faith in a city gone to the dogs, thanks to the Jews, Protestants and Masons, and under a cowardly leader.” (16 November 1952)90
“Harvard boys are filthy. Too many Irish, too many Negroes, and too many Jews.” (8 March 1953)91
In many ways Feeney was a paradoxical figure. On the one hand, he often vilified Jews and called them derogatory names. Yet his attacks on Jews were based more on theological reasons and not upon racist antisemitism, which echoed Father Coughlin’s beliefs in the 1930s and ‘40s and accused the Jews of an international Communist conspiracy. The other conflicting points about Feeney regard how the Jewish Community Council and the archdiocese responded to him. Both employed similar methods of quarantining Feeney, limiting public knowledge of Feeney. Although they devised these policies independently of each other, Feeney – by marginalizing his views – became ostracized from the Church. As a result, Feeney’s anti-Judaic theological stance my have had the reverse effect by actually bringing together liberal Catholics and Jews.
Was the Feeney affair a case of blatant antisemitism? Without a doubt, Feeney expressed antisemitic views. However, his views emphasized more religious anti-Judaism. He argued against Jews on a theological basis; he believed they would not gain salvation because they did not believe in Jesus. Feeney was not on a crusade against the Jews, per se, but believed that Archbishop Cushing was wrong in his liberal interpretation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus.92 Feeney’s attacks were not limited to Jews; he also harshly criticized Catholics and Protestants. Isabel Currier of the Frances Sweeney Committee sent an editorial to the Jewish Advocate in August 1951 contending that antisemitism was not Feeney’s inspiration or driving force. She went so far to say that “Feeney denounces and mimics Catholic personages far more than he insults Jews and Protestants.”93 Feeney attacked Archbishop Cushing, for communicating with non-Catholics. Feeney did attract some extremists to his movement, but the Feeney affair was nothing like the rampant and violent antisemitism that swept over Jews in the early 1940s and resurged in 1949-51.
Feeney initially gained publicity with his involvement in a Boston College dispute over the teaching of “no salvation outside the church.” Boston College dismissed four teachers who promulgated this view; Feeney supported the teachers, which led the Jesuit order to also discharge him. Complaining that Boston College was guilty of heresy, Feeney took the teachers in with him at the Saint Benedict Center.94 Archbishop Cushing afterwards silenced Feeney and announced the Saint Benedict Center would be strictly forbidden for Catholics. According to the Catholic historian James M. O’Toole, the Feeney affair began in the late 1940s as an internal Catholic problem. It was not until after Cushing silenced Feeney that the Feeney movement erupted into a broader concern.95 The official Church decree against Feeney was as follows:
The Reverend Leonard Feeney, S.J., because of grave offenses against the general laws of the Catholic church, has lost the right to perform any priestly functions, including preaching and teaching of religion.
Any Catholics who frequent St. Benedict’s Center, or who in any way take part in or assist its activities forfeit the right to receive the sacraments of penance and Holy Eucharist.96
As Feeney’s vitriolic sentiments directed towards Jews and Protestants became more extreme, various Boston civic agencies targeted Feeney. The Frances Sweeney Committee, the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the Cambridge Community Relations Council, the Department of Social Relations at Harvard University, and the Civil Improvement Committee to Better Race Relations among Boston Citizens united to send a January 1952 letter to the Most Reverend Amleto G. Cicognani, D.D., Apostolic Delegate to the United States. The letter complained of the Feeney disturbances on Boston Common in preaching the doctrine of ‘no salvation outside the Church’.97 They believed
the greatest strategical error of the leader of this group has been his insistence, constantly and publicly, that he has the right to flout the authority of His Excellency, Archbishop Richard J. Cushing as heretical; that ‘Rome has not spoken,’ that he is not excommunicate; that he has the authority of the Holy Father, to whom alone he submits.”98
The group urged that if Rome would speak through excommunication, the Feeney group would disband.99 The Church did respond to Feeney; Pope Pius XII declared Feeney excommunicate in 1953.100 Despite his formal excommunication, Feeney did not consider his action authoritative and continued to preach on the Boston Common for several more years.
The official Jewish and Catholic policies regarding Feeney were similar, but the two groups did not devise such plans together. Both Catholics and Jews tried to keep Feeney out of the press as much as possible. They were fairly successful; other than his excommunication, he did not receive significant publicity in any Boston newspaper. According to Isadore Zack, a fact finder for the ADL who visited the Feeney group on the Common for years, the official Jewish policy on the Feeney affair was quarantine, which involved limiting what the public knew of Feeney and keeping the Feeney affair as quiet as possible.101 Zack said the only thing the Jewish community knew about Feeney was “what we told them” because Jews did not go down to the Common to hear his speeches.102 Archbishop Cushing pursued a similar policy. An ADL memo from Isadore Zack revealed that Edward Cunningham, a man whose son had been a Feeneyite and died under mysterious circumstances at the St. Benedict’s Center, visited the Chancery twice. During a visit to the archdiocese, Cushing told Mr. Cunningham not to take any action that would give Feeney further publicity: “we are trying to smother this situation without giving him an opportunity for newspaper headlines,” said the prelate.103When questioned about why Feeney was allowed to continue speaking on the Common, Cushing replied that the issue extended beyond the Church and involved civil rights and free speech. Cushing felt getting involved in the free speech issue would only provide Feeney with more publicity and serve to increase the size of the crowds. Cushing also feared greater attention would encourage more people to attend meetings, possibly spreading Feeney’s influence and ideas throughout Cambridge.104
While the Catholic Church and Jewish authorities both pursued a policy of quarantine, the Frances Sweeney Committee, an important civic organization devoted to promoting democracy in Boston, worked with both Catholics and Jews in regard to the Feeney affair. Just as the Committee attacked the Catholic Church and Cardinal O’Connell for not taking action against antisemitic attacks in South Boston in the early 1940s, the Frances Sweeney Committee attempted to combat Feeneyism in the 1950s. Isabel Currier, the Executive Director of the Frances Sweeney Committee, also worked as a reporter for the Boston City Reporter, the committee’s official publication.105 Currier attended weekly Feeney meetings on the Boston Common. The committee aimed to provide information to other agencies and sent reports to various organizations, including the archdiocese and the Jewish Community Council.106 In addition, the Frances Sweeney Committee asked the Boston Police Department in March 1951 to assign regular officers at the Sunday meetings to control the violence that sometimes occurred at Feeney’s meetings.
It is difficult to assess the impact Feeney had on Boston. Many sources claimed he was on the lunatic fringe, as Waugh had indicated earlier. The reports written by Isabel Currier and Grace Uberti often referred to his mad ravings. At the end of an October 1952 meeting, Uberti’s report claimed that, “Feeney looked very badly today and toward the end of his talk he became confused, opening his mouth to talk but no words came; then he spoke a jumble of words which meant nothing at all…One woman said, ‘He lost his voice then and the devil in him just took over’.”107 At another Sunday meeting Uberti noted, “Feeney still has many friends in the Sunday audience, but the majority think he is a mental case, and keep asking us why he is allowed to go on.”108
Just as Bostonians criticized Feeney, many Catholics did not support him either. One anonymous letter mailed to Isabel Currier revealed how disturbed one Catholic man felt by Father Feeney’s campaign. He wrote, “Their abuse of the Archbishop and other prominent bishops, priests, ministers and rabbis is low, coarse, false, full of hate, bigoted, etc. They should not be allowed to use taxpayers’ property…”109Such letters to the Frances Sweeney Committee played an important role in showing the Committee and Boston religious leaders that Feeney was not mainstream, and that antisemitic attitudes and bigotry ceased to be acceptable in the 1950s.
The Frances Sweeney Committee said it believed religious leaders handled the problem well. They also cited Cushing’s active role in the matter, which provided a stark contrast with the Church’s failure to denounce antisemitic attacks in the early 1940s. According to the Boston City Reporter,
The fact is – and it should be emphasized – that the Archdiocese, so far as it is responsible, has done everything within its ecclesiastical authority to induce Father Feeney to shut up…The principal thing to do has been demonstrated admirably by the distinguished victims of Father Feeney’s gibes and the three religious groups which he attacks.110
The Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston also strove to keep it a civic affair. As the movement dragged on, the council debated modifying or even abandoning the quarantine policy. One of the statements expressed against changing the policy read, “It would be a mistake to reduce this to a fight between the Feeneyites and the Jews; it would be wiser to try to make it a civic matter.”111
Although both Jews and Catholics tried to define Feeneyism as a community problem, and not a religious one, Feeney’s attacks on the young Brandeis University hit close to home for Boston Jews. Before Brandeis University consecrated its three chapels in 1955, Feeney vilified the school’s decision to build a Catholic Chapel in his May 1955 publication, The Point.112 Feeney and his followers marched throughout Boston protesting the chapels and distributed a leaflet headlined in capitalized letters “CATHOLICS OF BOSTON, STOP THE JEWS FROM DISHONORING AND DESECRATING THE BLESSED SACRAMENT AT BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY.”113 Feeney caused such a commotion about protesting the Catholic Chapel at Brandeis that the news broke through the quarantine and received significant attention in Boston and even the New York Times ran an article about the matter.114
A minute, but important, side note emerged from the Feeney scandals. While Feeney cursed the Jews and anyone outside the Church, (although he himself was outside the Church; which is one of the great ironies of the Feeney affair), his action had the reverse effect and brought Archbishop Cushing into closer contact with the Jewish community. When the Feeneyites threatened to protest at Brandeis and disrupt the chapel dedication, Archbishop Cushing ensured this did not happen. According to President Abram Sachar, “The projected Feeney invasion was, [Cushing] told me, his problem. He was prepared to meet it. Rightly perceiving that even Feeney would not raise his hand physically against his bishop, Cushing announced that he would himself bless the chapel and conduct its first mass. So he did, and the united service was held in peace and dignity…”115 Archbishop Cushing’s intervention on behalf of Brandeis University sent a powerful message of interfaith cooperation to the Boston Jews.
By the late 1950s, Archbishop Cushing proved to be a great friend to the Boston Jewish community. Although the Feeney affair proved antisemitism persisted in Boston, it illustrated how antisemitism ceased to be a respectable position. The rise of Boston civic agencies, suburbs and the Catholic-Protestant-Jewish ideology all led Boston into a new period of intergroup relations. At the same time, a new generation of effective and assertive religious leaders were better prepared to lead Boston into the 1960s, an era that saw a challenge of authority across the globe. During these years, Boston Jewish and Catholic leaders strengthened their working relations and began a new stage in communication and promoting ecumenical and interfaith interests. Internal changes in Rome would soon lead to a new beginning of the Catholic-Jewish story both abroad and in Boston.
During an era of rapid societal changes between 1958 and 1965, Boston’s Catholic-Jewish relationship began a critical transformation. Archbishop Cushing continued his rise to prominence as the Feeney movement slowly faded out of Boston’s consciousness in the late 1950s.1 Although the Catholic and Jewish communities disagreed over differences regarding Sunday blue laws and public observance of holidays, antisemitic attacks during this period declined significantly. The Vatican recognized Cushing as one of Boston’s most important religious leaders when the pope elevated Cushing to the rank of Cardinal in 1958. Other factors were important indicators of change during this transition period. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the first Catholic President, symbolized the rise of minorities and served as a catalyst for change in America. Kennedy and Cushing, two of Massachusetts’ most prominent Catholics, contributed to improved interreligious relations through their respective political achievements and ecumenical efforts. Cushing also proved his commitment to improving Christian-Jewish understanding through his intervention on behalf of the Jews at the Second Vatican Council. Led by Pope John XIII, the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965, made some important statements concerning the global Catholic-Jewish relationship. Its motto of aggiornamentoupdated the Catholic Church and inspired a new era in Catholic-Jewish reconciliation.2 Vatican II also directly influenced the Boston Catholic-Jewish relationship, which opened a new era with the Boston College dialogues. These dialogues consisted of Catholic-Jewish conferences to discuss local issues and focused on improving relations at the community level. Organized by both Catholic and Jewish leadership, the Boston College dialogues illustrate how far interreligious relations had come in a few decades.
A year of change in Rome and Boston
Characterized as a momentous year in Rome, 1958 witnessed the inauguration of a new Pope, who would change the course of global Catholic-Jewish relations for decades to come. Pope Pius XII died in 1958 and the Cardinals selected Angelo Roncalli to serve as an “interim” pope. The Curia (the governing administration of the Church) thought that Roncalli, a seventy-six year old man in 1958, would fill a short void. Although the Vatican was correct that Roncalli would not live long, they completely underestimated his vitality and revolutionary ideas. Roncalli, known as Pope John XXIII and the 262nd “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Prince of the Apostles, Primate of Italy, and Patriarch of the West” inaugurated a new era in Church history.3 On 6 November 1958, the first day of his pontificate, he phoned several top Vatican officials at 6:45 a.m. to discuss the crucial need of modernizing church administration. He immediately set out to update the Church, and soon emerged as a dynamic and powerful figure.4
Only a week after his pontificate began, Pope John XXIII recognized Archbishop Cushing’s efforts in interfaith work and as an effective leader. On 16 November 1958, the apostolic delegate Archbishop Amleto Cicognani of Washington phoned Archbishop Cushing informing him that the Church acknowledged his “glowing charity” and “burning zeal for souls” and wanted to promote him to Cardinal. Cushing was one of two American Catholic prelates to be elevated to Cardinal under Pope John. Before Cushing departed for Rome, he arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport and moved through the cheering crowds as the Boston Police Band played, “Southie Is My Home Town.”
Cushing’s interfaith work
The Roman Catholic Church’s elevation of Cushing to Cardinal recognized the good-will work he had begun as soon as he entered office in 1944. Throughout the years, he spoke at dozens of brotherhood dinners with Catholics, Protestants and Jews. Cushing delivered a history-making address in 1948 as the first Catholic prelate to welcome a convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) – their 75th anniversary convention held at Hotel Statler in Boston. Over 1,500 delegates attended, representing 500,000 members throughout the United States. Cushing pledged his own personal friendship to Jews and explained,
There are many ignorant or malicious things sometimes said about our beliefs concerning Christ and their effect on the attitudes of Christians toward Jews. I ask you not to believe those things; they are lies and they are said to divide us…
No man can have my faith concerning Christ, without desiring to be more like he was and therefore seeking always to serve, to help, to befriend all men without exception – white, black, Gentile, Jews. Always remember that a Catholic Bishop took time from a busy day to come and tell you that. I did not send a representative to assure you of my official friendship. I would not send a scholar to prove that our doctrines do not make us your enemies. I come myself to pledge my personal affection and officially to declare there is nothing in my faith to make us enemies of you. It is all the other way. I can and do pledge to you the friendship of my people.5
In 1956, the Brotherhood Dinner of the Lowell Hebrew Community, part of B’nai B’rith, honored Cushing as “Man of the Year.” Boston newspapers increasingly quoted Cushing’s goodwill statements that demonstrated his enthusiasm for working with Jews and Protestants. The Pilot cited Cushing for saying that worthy Christians must know Jewish traditions. He vowed that Christians and Jews must understand their shared heritage and focus on their commonalities.6
Only a year after being elevated to Cardinal in 1959, the Jewish Advocate, Boston’s major Jewish newspaper, honored Cushing as “Man of the Year” in 1959. This was a momentous decision, for the Boston Jewish community maintained minimal ties with his predecessor, Cardinal O’Connell. Selecting a Catholic as its “Man of the Year” demonstrated the high regard with which the Boston Jewish community held Cardinal Cushing. The Advocate described his South Boston roots and how his burning zeal and charity spread throughout Boston. Cushing’s many distinctions and roles as a Church leader, orator and administrator showed his ease at working with men of all creeds. The Advocate continued:
The conferring of the Cardinalate on the Archbishop of Boston last month was an exalted honor for the Diocese of Boston and for its devoted people, but was no less an honor for its illustrious spiritual shepherd. Cardinal Cushing is not a great man because he has been elevated to the Sacred College; he is a member of the Sacred College because he is a great man…
He is held in affection not only by his religious kinsmen, but by all who have a grateful acquaintance with the fruits of his work. If the Cardinal’s noble thoughts against racial antipathy and creedal strife could be put into the hearts of every man and child, then verily would we arrive at the long overdue recognition that we are all children of One Loving Father to enjoy the pleasantness of brethren living together in peace.7
The significance of President John F. Kennedy
Awarding Cushing the honor “Man of the Year” was a significant milestone for Boston Catholic-Jewish relations. Meanwhile, nationally, a young charismatic politician, a Boston Catholic, made headlines across America. The presidential election of 1960 heralded a new beginning for American Catholics because John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first Catholic President and it also signified the rise of minorities in the political mainstream. A largely symbolic figure, Kennedy’s presidency began the removal of barriers against Catholics, African-Americans, Jews, women, youth and other ethnic groups.8 He won by only 112,000 votes, less than .2 percent of the nearly 69 million votes cast. The Jewish vote was crucial in his victory; the election was so close that Kennedy would not have been elected without Jews.9 Despite his victory, his campaign proved that even in 1960, a time when many Americans respected religious pluralism, bigotry and religious intolerance persisted.10
Kennedy’s religion played a major factor in the campaign. Although Kennedy attended prestigious and predominately Protestant schools including Choate and Harvard, many Americans feared his Catholic roots and what they called a “Papist dominated presidency.” Unlike Catholic presidential hopeful Al Smith in the 1928 election, Kennedy understood the significance of anti-Catholic attacks.11 Convinced the religious issue could not be buried, he brought it out in the open as much as possible. During a congressional hearing in 1947 on federal aid to parochial schools, Kennedy stated, “There is an old saying in Boston that we get our religion from Rome and our politics at home, and that is the way most Catholics feel about it.”12
Not all the talk sprang from bigotry; many who expressed doubts or asked questions merely tried to reconcile their view of Catholicism’s authoritarian stance with America’s constitutional separation of church and state. On 12 September 1960 Kennedy delivered a famous address in Houston, Texas before a televised meeting of the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He expressed his belief in the absolute separation of church and state and full religious liberty for all Americans:
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.13
Ironically, as Kennedy attempted to keep his religion out of the election, he brought liberal Christians and Jews together. The same day he presented his speech in Houston, one hundred Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders issued a “Statement on Religious Liberty in Relation to the 1960 National Campaign.”14 It echoed a similar belief that religion should not play a role in the presidential campaign. Earlier that year, the National Conference of Christians and Jews released statements by Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders requesting fairness in the election.15 The rise of a religious coalition devoted to Kennedy characterized the beginning of an era that emphasized greater interreligious harmony. Changes initiated within the national leadership would soon percolate down to the city level.
While Jewish leaders united with Kennedy-supporting clerics of the Catholic and Protestant faiths, many Jewish lay individuals similarly supported his candidacy. Kennedy’s support among Jews and African-Americans was astonishing, particularly because Kennedy’s father was alleged to have been antisemitic and indifferent to Hitler. Samplings from New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles revealed that John F. Kennedy received about eighty-two percent of the Jewish vote. Kennedy attained a higher percentage vote from Jews and African-Americans than Catholics and more Protestants voted for him than his Catholic and Jewish supporters combined.16 What explains the widespread Jewish support for Kennedy? First, Jews in America tended to vote for liberal candidates and had been part of the Democratic coalition since 1928.17 Jews also were impressed by the way Kennedy handled the issue of his religion during the campaign. He did not apologize for being Catholic, and by doing so, virtually removed the religious issues for Jews in American politics.18 Even more compelling, Kennedy’s qualifications and firm stance on church-state separation convinced and reassured Jews. They agreed with his generally liberal views on national and international affairs.
Once elected, Kennedy continued to play a decisive role in national Catholic-Jewish relations. The appointment of two Jews to serve in his Cabinet, Arthur Goldberg at Health and Abraham Ribicoff at Health, Education and Welfare, was significant because this marked the first time in American history that two Jews served in the Cabinet.19 Kennedy’s presidency especially heightened awareness of religious issues in his hometown. Cardinal Cushing’s relationship with John F. Kennedy brought the significance of America’s first Catholic president a little closer to Boston. Over the years, Cardinal Cushing became closely associated with the Kennedy family and formed an especially close tie with the President.20 His relationship with President Kennedy was another symbol of the changing era; both men dedicated themselves to eradicating barriers imposed on minorities and religious groups. For example, during Kennedy’s short time in office, he inaugurated the Peace Corps, the Test Ban Treaty, civil rights legislation, the Alliance for Progress and Food for Peace.21 Kennedy also played an important role in the Boston Catholic-Jewish relationship because, in the words of Lawrence H. Fuchs, Kennedy was
Mainly a symbol of change among Catholics in America, but he was also a catalyst…Kennedy, by becoming the most influential lay Catholic in American history, made the path of the new breed and the generation of the third eye much easier. Because no one in American history had ever become so completely identified with interreligious encounter as Kennedy, his election gave hope to the forces of encounter.22
Kennedy and Cushing both played leading roles in ushering in a new era and in the changing dynamics of Boston’s Catholic-Jewish relationship. The culmination of Kennedy’s political achievements combined with Cushing’s ecumenical efforts produced two powerful figures in both local and national interreligious relations. Cushing watched as his young friend climbed the political ladder, but refrained from making any public statements during the 1960 campaign that might seem to intrude upon the separation of church and state. Cardinal Cushing rose to national prominence when he delivered the invocation at Kennedy’s inauguration. While Cushing had the honor of presiding over this joyous occasion, he also had the sad task of leading the funeral mass for John F. Kennedy’s untimely death and consoling his widow and two children. At the funeral on 24 November 1963 Cushing said “…As for myself, I have lost my dearest and nearest friend. History will never record how close we were in life.”23
Cushing’s relationship with Boston’s Jewish leaders
As Kennedy’s short-lived presidency symbolized a new era in interreligious relations, back in Boston, Cushing, unlike O’Connell, pursued a warm relationship with the Jewish community. His dealings with prominent Boston Jews also demonstrated the importance of effective communication. The dialogue between Catholic and Jewish leaders was one important link that led to improved interreligious relations. Robert Segal, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston from 1944 until 1972, and Cushing were in constant touch through letters and meetings. For instance, when Cardinal Cushing endorsed the book PT 109 – John F. Kennedy, in World War II, he collaborated with Segal.The book and movie were released in Boston in April 1963. Cushing agreed to serve as chairman of the world premier screening of the film, with all proceeds going to charity. However, Cushing only decided to endorse the film on the condition that the money would go to an array of charitable organizations in greater Boston “irrespective of creed or the worthy cause they represented.”24Cushing communicated with Segal about what charities would be included. In addition, Cushing encouraged Segal to invite Jewish leaders to the screening of the movie. This was an important example of how Cushing collaborated with the Jewish community on similar interests and illustrated how President Kennedy brought Boston Catholics and Jews together.
At other times, the Jewish community called upon Cushing to use his influence on behalf of the global Jewish community. For example, Lewis H. Weinstein wrote to Cushing in 1965.25 He asked Cushing to make a statement to the West German government about extending the statue of limitations against the Nazi war criminals due to expire on 8 May 1965. Cushing agreed and wrote a statement on behalf of the Jews to the West German government.26 In doing so, Cushing made an important announcement to the greater Boston and global Jewish community that he supported and befriended them.
Cardinal Cushing’s relationship with Abram Sachar, first President of Brandeis University, was one of the most visible signs of the changing era in Boston. Cushing had been involved with Brandeis from its beginning and supported the idea of erecting three chapels, echoing the belief that Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism comprised America’s great faiths. He had the honor of naming the Catholic Bethlehem Chapel and donated the vestments as a personal gift to the University. In 1961, Cushing showed his respect for Brandeis University when he and Sachar collaborated on an important interfaith gift. During the fall of 1961, President Sachar received a call from Father Paul Reinert, president of St. Louis University. Reinert received permission from Pope John XXIII to obtain a microfilm of important Hebrew codices in the Vatican Library that represented almost four hundred years of Hebrew writings in history, literature, philosophy and religious thought. The collection included 800 codices, equivalent in the bulk volume to twenty years of the New York Times.27 The codices contained important information about the Spanish and Portuguese Jews and had been accumulated throughout centuries of Jewish repression and expulsion. As a significant scholarly repository, it held the most valuable source of Jewish medieval learning and thought in the western world. Father Reinert explained to Sachar that he needed help funding the project. If Sachar could assist, Reinert said the Vatican would release two sets of microfilm. Immediately Sachar turned to Joseph Linsey, a Catholic serving as a trustee of Brandeis University who had previously helped Cardinal Cushing with fund-raising. Together Linsey and Sachar visited Cushing in his home. Sachar explained the importance of the Hebrew codices and the opportunity he and Father Reinert saw “in the period of Pope John’s appeal for an ecumenical climate, to provide a dramatic example of scholarly collaboration by two universities, one Catholic-founded and the other Jewish-founded.”28 When Sachar asked Cardinal Cushing for names of possible supporters, Cushing responded that he would donate $20,000 personally from his own Cardinal’s Fund.29
Cardinal Cushing formally presented the codices at the Greater Boston Brandeis Club in 1961 at its thirteenth annual dinner. On 3 December 1961 Cushing spoke about the significance of the codices and his respect and admiration for Brandeis University:
We should not miss the importance of this kind of cooperation which brings together two ancient religious traditions in a common effort …
For my part, I have always felt very close to Brandeis University. Fourteen years have passed since I had a visit from a group of Jewish leaders who, in a friendly and courteous manner, sought my opinion concerning the establishment of an institution of this kind somewhere in the area of Boston. Let me say publicly tonight what I said privately then, that there was nothing that could better serve the community interest than the establishment of a great hall of learning under Jewish auspices…
Brandeis University, without being in any exclusive sense Jewish, provides the home in which the riches of the past meet the challenges of the present in terms of the universal genius of Judaism…
Brandeis is something more than a forum of learning under Jewish auspices; it is a place where all that is good and great in the history of Israel stands ready and available for the inspiration of the total community.30
Origins of the Second Vatican Council
While Cushing brought Boston Catholics and Jews together through his relationship with prominent Boston Jews in the late 1950s and early 1960s, events in Rome promised a new chapter in the global Catholic-Jewish relationship. The election of Angelo Roncalli in 1958 as Pope John XXIII awakened an unusual interest among Jews, for Roncalli had helped Jewish communities during World War II. During his position as Papal Nuncio in Istanbul (1934-44), Roncalli made baptismal certificates for Jews to save them from the Nazis.31 Chief Rabbi Herzog of Israel declared, “Cardinal Roncalli is a man who really loves the people of the Book and through him thousands of Jews were rescued.”32 By the end of his first year as Pope, Roncalli had revised questionable references to Jews in Catholic liturgy.33 He informally acknowledged Israel’s presence by appointing a high-ranking Catholic prelate to serve as Vicar General in Haifa.34 He also welcomed and supported Jewish delegations when they approached him. For example, during a “swastika outbreak” in Germany during 1959-60, B’nai B’rith officials visited Pope John, who expressed his sorrow over the recent acts of antisemitism.35
A French Jewish historian, Jules Isaac, significantly influenced Pope John XXIII. As the distinguished Director of French Education before the war, Isaac studied textbooks and became convinced that the roots of Nazism and antisemitism would only be removed when Christians revised their teachings vis-a-vis the Jews.36 A World War II survivor, Isaac lost most of his family in Auschwitz. He dedicated his life to dissolving Christian antisemitic texts and teachings. While hiding in France during the war, he wrote Jesus and Israel, a book published shortly after the war’s end. The book later influenced many Catholics and was instrumental in spurring the change in Catholic teaching at Vatican II. Isaac met with Pope Pius XII in 1949 and hoped to convince him of the validity of the Seelisberg theses he developed about the Old and New Testaments.37 Pius XII received Isaac cordially, but it was not until Isaac met Pope John XXIII in 1959 that the two made history.
Only three months after his elevation, Pope John revealed his plans for a council to Cardinal Tardini, his Secretary of State.38 Many cardinals expressed surprise and resisted his idea. Ecumenical councils were expensive and occurred infrequently; the last council convened in 1869 and the one prior to that was the Council of Trent in 1562. Vatican I, 1869-70, declared the pope infallible in matters of faith and morals; many cardinals believed that if a pope wanted to change something he could, and his word would be accepted as final. However, Pope John understood what many of his brethren had not, that to make the Church relevant to the problems of the middle twentieth century required the involvement of all in the Church.39 A Pope alone could not change the hearts and minds of Catholics dispersed throughout the world.
Originally the Vatican decided the Council would host a discussion on the relationship of the church to non-Christian audiences, but Judaism was not included. Isaac met with John XXIII in 1959 and suggested the Church appoint a subcommittee to review Catholic-Jewish relations. Isaac’s scholarly works helped shed light on the specific ways Christian teachers and texts had inspired an attitude of contempt toward Judaism. Together his work and personal encounter with Pope John XXIII influenced the Church’s decision to discuss its relationship with Judaism at the Council. The Pope appointed a series of Preparatory Commissions and three Secretariats. Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., worked with the Jews; his job was Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity.40 Additionally, the Holocaust played a monumental role. Father Edward Duff, S.J., of Worcester, Massachusetts, explained
That the Second Vatican Council should formally discuss the relations of Christians and Jews was inevitable…The systematic murder of six million Jews, occurring within our generation in what was thought of as a Christian civilization, called imperiously for reflection on how this could have happened and positive measures against the monstrous evil recurring in any guise.41
Jewish organizations from the World Jewish Congress to the American Jewish Committee attempted to sway the Council through coordinated memos to Cardinal Bea about how much the Church needed to address antisemitism.42
The Jewish question at Vatican II
The details behind what transpired at Vatican II were extensive. Briefly, the Council lasted from 1962 through 1965 and included four main sessions.43 The first Council opened with 2,540 churchmen present. The Church did not discuss the Jewish question in the first session and drama between sessions increased Catholic-Jewish tension. The first setback occurred in early 1963 when controversy erupted over the play Der Stellvertreter – The Deputy in Berlin. Written by a young German Protestant, Rolf Hochhuth, the play condemned Pope Pius XII for his failure to take more vigorous action against Nazi atrocities during World War II.44 Riots, picketing and efforts at censorship accompanied the premier. The play seemed to compel its viewers to choose one side against another; to defend or condemn the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII. The play had far-reaching implications, which left many Catholics and Jews around the world divided.45 The second complication was the untimely death of Pope John XXIII on 3 June 1963. As many people around the world grieved, Jews expressed both their sorrow and nervousness that the statement would not proceed as planned because of Pope John’s demise.46 Only a few weeks later, however, the Cardinals elected Giovanni Montini to become the new Pope Paul VI; he presided over the second, third and fourth sessions. Arab pressure was a third issue that stalled the introduction of Catholic-Jewish issues at the Council. International politics swirled around the existence of an Israeli state in Palestine which, according to one historian, made “any statement on Jews a lightening rod for controversy.”47
At the closing of the second session, the recently elected Pope Paul VI announced he would visit Israel. This was an extraordinary move, for no pope had ever flown in an airplane, let alone made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. However, his visit to Israel sent mixed signals to the global Jewish community. On the one hand, once in Israel, he spoke about the significance of Palestine for all religions and ended with a hope for concord and unity among all people and nations, repeating the Hebrew word for peace, shalom.48 He also ordered Cardinal Tisserant to light candles and recite prayer at the Chamber of the Holocaust as a sign of his compassion for the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis. Yet, upon leaving Israel, he shocked the world with a defense of Pope Pius XII, the subject of sharp criticism in The Deputy.49 Pope Paul VI’s controversial visit to Israel divided many Jews and their attitudes toward the council.
The following Council sessions saw the intervention of Cardinal Cushing, when the Church failed to address its position regarding the Jews, despite the several drafts of texts (concerning the Jews) introduced at the second and third councils. In one of Cardinal Cushing’s greatest efforts on behalf of Jews, he exerted strong leadership in pushing for a statement. On 23 September 1964, he made his first “intervention” at the council by speaking on behalf of the proposed declaration of religious liberty. He said the time had come for the Church to prove herself as “the champion of liberty, of human liberty, and of civil liberty, especially in the matter of religion.”50 During deliberations at the third session over Nostra Aetate, the Declaration On the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Cushing boldly pronounced,
The Church must proclaim through this Ecumenical Council her unfeigned concern, universal respect and true love for the whole world and for all human beings…With regard to the Jews, I propose three amendments:
1. We must cast the Declaration on the Jews in a much more positive form, one not so timid, but much more loving…
2 …Much less can we burden later generations of Jews with any guilt for the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, for the death of the Savior of the world, except that universal guilt in which we all have a part…In clear and unmistakable language, we must deny, therefore, that the Jews are guilty of Our Savior’s death…We must condemn especially those who seek to justify, as Christian deeds, discrimination, hatred and even persecution of Jews…
3. I ask myself, Venerable Brothers, whether we should not humbly acknowledge before the whole world that, toward their Jewish brethren, Christians have all too often not shown themselves as true Christians, as faithful followers of Christ. How many [Jews] have suffered in our own time? How many died because Christians were indifferent and kept silent?51
In addition to Cushing’s efforts on behalf of Nostra Aetate, he also encouraged the Church to pass Dignitatis Humanae, the Church’s official teaching on religious freedom. Cushing threw his support behind the proposed statement on the Jews.52Although he did not know Latin well, he urged the Council fathers to produce a clear and positive statement (not a “timid” one) of love for the Jews as “the blood brothers of Christ.”53 Cushing concluded with “Dixi” – “I have spoken.” The assembled fathers broke the rules and burst into applause. They understood the implications of Cushing’s speech and although they made further modifications, Cushing’s suggestions were found in the final document (Nostra Aetate) of the Second Vatican Council. His influence left “no doubt of the high regard with which the cardinal from Boston was held among the leaders of the Church and his importance at a critical point in the council’s deliberations.”54
A third important document regarding the Jewish-Catholic relationship was Lumen gentium, number 16 (Dogmatic Constitution). This text was significant because although it only contained one paragraph pertaining to Jews, the Feeney controversy over interpreting “no salvation outside the church” sparked the clarification found in this document. The text clarified that statement by stating
Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.55
This passage is footnoted to 1949 letter from the Holy Office to Archbishop Cushing about how, according to Church doctrine, it was possible for non-Catholics to gain salvation through the grace of God.56 It was highly unusual that a Vatican council would quote a letter from a priest. The fact that the controversy over Feeney made its way into an official Church text symbolized the important issues Feeney raised for the Church.
All together, the Council produced numerous drafts of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions. From the beginning of the Council, the word “deicide” lay at the heart of debate over the declaration on the Jews. Cardinal Bea warned the Council Fathers of world Jewry’s expectations that they be exonerated from any guilt for Christ’s death.57 Nostra Aetate had not been finalized when John XXIII died; afterwards, Cardinal Bea found progress on the declaration slow. However, this said, the final draft of Nostra Aetate was a remarkable achievement. After many debates, Nostra Aetate affirmed that Christ’s crucifixion “cannot be blamed upon all Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.” The Council Fathers proclaimed the Jews are not “repudiated or cursed by God.”58With these words, they renounced centuries of Christian antisemitism. The American Jewish Committee called the declaration “a turning point in 1900 years of Jewish-Christian history” and “the climax to an unprecedented effort to bring about a new era in relations between Catholics and Jews.”59
How Vatican II initiated change in Boston through dialogue
The long-term impact of the Declaration was perhaps not so much what it stated, but in the new attitudes it inspired. Instead of focusing on the differences between Christians and Jews, Vatican II attempted to emphasize their common heritage.60Church leaders introduced a new vocabulary when referring to the Jews and this helped create a new atmosphere conducive to mutual understanding and dialogue.61 Cardinal Cushing concurred.
The statement is only a beginning for us to go further and to take out of Christian literature all that reflects upon the Jewish people….The declaration is not perfect but, in my opinion, it is a good start…62
Perhaps the greatest sign of change in Boston arose from the Boston College dialogues, which occurred at the same time as the Vatican Council. During an ecumenical era with Vatican II addressing Christian-Jewish relations, the Boston College dialogues brought Boston Catholics and Jews together to discuss interfaith matters. Boston College hosted four meetings between 1963 and 1968. Vatican II directly influenced these dialogues; the Boston College conferences exemplified how changes initiated in Rome percolated down to the local level.
The official title for the first dialogue held in January 1963 was “Catholic-Jewish Understanding in an Age of Tension” and the invitation explained the interfaith meeting:
The purpose of our dialogue on January 23 is to deal frankly with myths, images and realities, to explore carefully the issues which sometimes divide us, and then to assess hopefully the logical methods for working cooperatively on the great civic challenges before us.63
Boston College, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston sponsored the first dialogue. The idea for the conference grew out of an earlier interfaith conference at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. David H. Goldstein spoke with Robert Segal, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston about the possibility of such a conference in Boston at one of the Catholic universities. Father Robert F. Drinan, S.J., Dean of Boston College Law School, who had participated in the Assumption Conference, was eager to co-sponsor such an event.64 Father Drinan chaired the conference.65
The dialogue included 113 people, including many prominent Boston Catholics and Jews. In addition to Catholic and Jewish leaders, the conference aimed to bring in people employed in different areas in society. Two nationally respected sociologists, one Catholic and one Jewish, spoke at the dialogue. Father Campion, S.J., associate editor of America, a national liberal Catholic weekly, and Dr. Nathan Glazer, author of American Judaism and co-author of The Lonely Crowd, presented the main addresses.66 Father Campion spoke about a common Biblical and spiritual heritage which both Catholics and Jews shared. He chronicled the turbulent last few decades in Boston Catholic-Jewish relations and related them to greater external events:
The election of John Kennedy to the Presidency in 1960 would exercise considerable impact on the evolution of the Catholic self-image as a minority. I likewise suspect that even a relatively external incident such as the establishment of an independent state of Israel altered the collective consciousness of the American Jewish community to some extent…Much trouble in intergroup relations stems, not so much from basic, intrinsic differences between the groups, but from historical or cultural incidentals.67
Dr. Glazer’s speech on “The Two Cultures” discussed Catholic and Jewish stereotypes and how bitterly divided Jews and Catholics remained throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He described myths and images of Catholics and Jews , but warned against denying “the facts that serve as the basis for misunderstanding” in the effort to eliminate miscommunications.68 Dr. Glazer concluded by saying Jews and Catholics must recognize their differences and then learn how to deal with them.69
After the formal presentations, the heart of the dialogue began. Participants at the conference split into smaller groups where they discussed both historical and current events concerning Catholic-Jewish relations. A lay Catholic reported positive results came out of the conference. Published in the national Catholic magazine America, she wrote:
The talks were good – honest, stimulating and irenic…Then came the workshops – quite different from passive listening – and candor reared its lovely, if somewhat disturbing head. These groups (six of them, each with 20-25 participants) were far removed from the notion of the bland, well-meaning, ‘let’s love everybody banquets.’ Then the clashes came…
But in spite of all the differences and sharp exchanges of opinion – and it would take a book to detail them – a wonderful thing happened. People got talking to one another. At dinner, they played the ‘whom do you know that I know’ game. They laughed together…
Perhaps I can best suggest the atmosphere of the conference by injecting a personal note. When I was saying goodnight to a rabbi with whom I had really tangled, he grinned at me and said, “Pax vobiscum.” I grinned back and said, “Shalom.”70
After the conference, Father Campion urged follow-up meetings. With “winds of challenge” at work in the Catholic world, Father Campion said it would be a pity if “the energies of these two groups should be diverted from positive channels into the wasteland of intergroup conflict and suspension.”71 As Vatican II progressed, the Boston College dialogues convened a second time in December 1963. Earlier that year, Father Drinan had written to Robert Segal and Sol Kolack, two leaders in the Jewish Community Council, about following-up with another Catholic-Jewish conference.72 They hoped to address three areas of concern expressed at the January dialogue: (1) considerable misinformation about Jewish and Catholic perceptions of each other; (2) concern about issues dividing the two groups, including: federal aid to private education; religious observance in the schools; the presence of religious symbols in public places; birth control and the hotly contested Sunday blue laws; and (3) proposals for easing potential conflicts and tensions.73
The Sunday blue law controversy had been an ongoing battle between Boston Catholics and Jews since the 1950s. The debate stemmed back to a 1672 Massachusetts law that prohibited many activities for all citizens on the “Christian Sabbath.”74 The issue came to a halt in 1959 when a kosher supermarket in Springfield, Massachusetts went to court over its right to remain open on Sunday. The court ruled that Massachusetts Sunday blue laws were unconstitutional on the grounds that they restricted religious liberty and deprived the storeowner of liberty and property without due process of law. Further, the court said they denied equal protection of the laws provided by the fourteenth amendment.75 The issue again arose in 1962, when Rabbi Gittelsohn and prominent Catholics sent a series of ugly editorials back and forth to the Pilot. Father Drinan was also involved in the Sunday Blue Laws legislation. He explained
Even the most skilled expert on diagnosing intergroup tensions would have great difficulty in discovering what tensions and abrasions exist between the Catholic and Jewish communities in Boston as a result of the head-on collision in the struggle concerning exemptions from Sunday laws. All that one can say, absent a scientifically sociological survey of the matter, is that the Jewish community feels that the numerically predominant Catholic community has not defined religious freedom for Jews as Catholics define it for themselves when they argue for Federal aid for their schools.76
The Sunday blue laws exemplified some of the ongoing tension between the Boston Catholic and Jewish communities. Although the Boston College dialogues brought Jews and Catholics together over common areas of concern, the Catholic-Jewish relationship was exacerbated by opposing views on birth control, extending federal aid to parochial schools, gambling, child adoption cases and the role of religion in public schools.77
The Sunday blue law controversy was just one topic discussed at the second dialogue. Each Boston College dialogue was unique, for each one reflected on the most pressing concerns of the day. For example, the second workshop, held only weeks after Kennedy’s assassination, symbolized the impact Kennedy made on Boston Catholics and Jews. Seven workshops at the conference gave people an opportunity to discuss current issues. Some of the concerns addressed included: (1) evaluating the impact of Pope John XXIII and the ongoing Vatican Council; (2) discussing the election and assassination of John F. Kennedy; (3) questioning if Catholics and Jews really had a common tradition; (4) discussing changing how scripture is taught; (5) the need for clarification about Jesus’ crucifixion; (6) learning the importance of mutual participation from the current civil rights struggle; and (7) discussing the new generation’s attitude to intergroup relations.78The workshop concluded with leaders agreeing they needed to place more emphasis on congregational and parish level interfaith dialogue and activities.
As with the first dialogue, the second conference hosted well-known Catholic and Jewish speakers. In a planning meeting between Father Drinan, Sol Kolack and Robert Segal, they discussed asking Cardinal Cushing to open the conference and also hoped Dr. Sachar would attend. However, neither were able to attend. The fact that Catholics and Jews attempted to get Dr. Sachar and Cardinal Cushing at the dialogue illustrated the importance of Cushing and Sachar’s relationship in bridging Boston’s religious communities. The committee eventually selected Father Edward H. Flannery, editor of the Providence Visitor and Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of the Commission on Interfaith Activities of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) as the keynote speakers for the second dialogue.79 The conference particularly focused on the division between leaders and laymen; both religious factions agreed there was an urgent need to bring the discussion down to the community level. They wanted their dialogue of a hundred Jewish and Catholic leaders to expand and hoped to encourage laymen to discuss issues that divided Catholics and Jews. Rabbi Balfour Brickner summed up the division between religious leaders and lay people well:
There is little question in my mind that the contact between the professional elements of the two faith groups is improving and in many communities is quite good. Jewish leadership knows a great deal about Catholicism and vice versa…
The same cannot be said about the masses of Catholics and Jews. One need only to ring a few doorbells in a typical burgeoning housing unit of ‘Mr. Average American’ to find out how minuscule is the mutual cooperation or even mutual respect…
It is on the lay level that we live in triple ghettos, isolated from one another, encased in five o’clock shadows’ of our own making. It is here that both communities need not only vastly intensified participation of educated laymen who can serve as rods binding the two layers together, as conduits throughout which will flow a much needed contact between what is now so separated within the individual faith groups, but also a participation which will bring these human conductors into a horizontal exchange, tying together the masses of the two faith groups, paralleling the mutual effort and understanding that now unites the professional and the intellectuals of the two communities. The time has now come, by virtue of the spade work done by the leadership and the high intelligence and increased capacities of our laymen, to give to Catholic-Jewish relationships an opportunity to become a people’s movement.80
Father Edward Flannery also addressed similar issues. As the first Catholic priest to write a book chronicling the history of antisemitism, Flannery spoke about how many well-educated Catholics had almost “total ignorance” of the long history of antisemitism.81 He stressed the importance of understanding history. Knowing how popes, saints and church fathers played a role in spreading antisemitism was a necessary first step for Catholics in bridging ties with Jews.82
In an attempt to encourage more local dialogue, Boston College conducted the third dialogue on 16 May 1965 in direct response to the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Like the earlier colloquiums, Father Drinan, Robert Segal and Sol Kolack played key roles in planning the dialogue. However, for their third dialogue, they sent out letters to local Catholics and Jews asking for help with the planning phase. Their letters stated they wanted the conference to discuss the relationship of Vatican II to the Jewish-Catholic understanding in Boston and how to further develop dialogue at the local level. Further, they hoped to explore the connection between ecumenism and religious pluralism.83 They explained the need for the third dialogue on the invitation: “The purpose of our dialogue on May 16 is to seek together the logical next steps at a local level for developing Catholic-Jewish understanding in the light of recent developments in the Vatican Council.” Keynote speakers included Dr. Joseph L. Lichten, Director of Department of Intercultural Affairs of the Anti-Defamation League and Reverend Edward Duff. S.J., Associate Professor of Political Science at Holy Cross College. Both Lichten and Reverend Duff had attended the recent Vatican sessions.
The third conference had a new sponsor. The recently formed Ecumenical Council of the Archdiocese of Boston was a direct response to the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council. The Ecumenical Council joined the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and Boston College in sponsoring the dialogue. According to Reverend Charles Von Euw, secretary of the Ecumenical Commission, participating in the dialogue was their first action on a community level.84 The dialogues had a significant impact on Boston Catholics and Jews, because they represented how changes in Rome percolated down to Boston. The dialogues also symbolized the growing interest in interreligious relations in the city.
Two exemplary leaders
Cushing and Sachar’s friendship ran its course through all the important events in the late 1950s and early 1960s – the election and assassination of President Kennedy, the trials and tribulations in Rome over Vatican II and the Boston College Dialogues. Perhaps the best way to conclude this era is by going back to two of its most crucial leaders. This thesis has explored the role Boston Catholic and Jewish leaders have played in the transformation of Boston’s religious groups. When all said is and done, those leaders initiated changes and ensured that the Second Vatican Council’s attempts to reconcile the global Catholic-Jewish relationship produced local changes in Boston.
Boston Jews expressed their gratitude toward Cardinal Cushing’s deep-hearted efforts at Vatican II. The Brandeis University commencement of 1964 signified how highly Brandeis regarded Cushing. Brandeis commemorated Cushing by presenting him with an honorary degree on 7 June 1964.85 In a special Saturday night session before graduation. Dr. Sachar fondly recalled Cushing’s appearance:
When he was invited for the Commencement tribute affair, he alerted us that he could only stay for a moment. A long evening had been prohibited by his doctor…
We told him that he could come after the dinner, that he would be called upon early, and that it was our tradition for the speakers to limit themselves to five or ten minutes. He arrived when the program was under way and, when called upon, launched on a lively biographical odyssey, with comments about his sister who had married a ‘wonderful, considerate Jewish businessmen who, like all Jews, knew how to cherish a wife.’ It was tragedy, he said, that Lou had died so early, and he only hoped that his sister would be fortunate enough to marry another Jew! He mocked the Catholic establishment and its sonorous ecclesiastical rhetoric. He wandered all over Jewish history and showed remarkable knowledge of Jewish problems. He spoke for an hour and a quarter and had the audience howling with laughter throughout. When he concluded, fresher than when he had started, he looked at his watch and exclaimed in mock horror: I thought you had promised me a short evening!86
There is a sense of familiarity and friendliness in Cushing and Sachar’s correspondence. At the tenth anniversary of the chapel dedication, Sachar wrote to Cushing about the plan to establish the Richard Cardinal Cushing Testimonial Endowment. With $150,000 in capital, its income would fund the ongoing work for the Chapel. Cardinal Cushing initially donated $10,000 to the fund.87 However, their relationship extended beyond monetary gifts. During their exchanges about the anniversary, Cushing wrote that he supported the endorsement of Bethlehem Chapel. He concluded with, “What more can I do for you and yours at Brandeis? The only thing I can do is to salute you as my devoted friend whose thoughts are my thoughts, whose ways are my ways, so that we can help the youth of the present to become the leaders of the future.”88 Sachar responded, “I have just returned from a mission to England and one of the first letters to greet me is the very moving one that comes from you…One of the most precious assets that I have in my own work here is the knowledge of your great friendship.”89 Cushing also battled with his declining health throughout the 1960s; on several occasions Dr. Sachar wrote friendly letters for the sole purpose of expressing concern. (see appendix) Cushing discussed his illness with Sachar; in a 15 July 1966 letter, he talked candidly about his health and at the bottom handwrote, “another letter is due [to] you, my dear friend.”90
Cushing and Sachar’s relationship continued until Cushing’s death in 1970. Although the “Cush” was no longer present, Boston Catholics and Jews continued his goodwill work.91 Further dialogues in 1968 and 1972 continued efforts to bridge Boston Catholics and Jews together. The dialogue held on 9 January 1972 at the Cardinal Cushing College placed emphasis on the local level. It was a Brookline, Brighton, West Roxbury area workshop for Jewish and Catholic lay leaders.92Cardinal Cushing would have been proud that the winds of change were alive and vibrant in the Athens of America.
The famous sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote in 1959 about society facing the end of the modern age. Wright predicated that the 1960s would be a tumultuous period and “the ending of one epoch and the beginning of another.”1 Global Catholic-Jewish relations, like so many other aspects of society, experienced a dramatic upheaval during this era. Knowledge of Hitler’s genocide, the Eichmann Trial in Jerusalem in 1961 and the emerging civil rights struggle in America all contributed to a new atmosphere. During this revolutionary era, people began protesting how much persecution undermined minorities both in America and abroad. Catholic-Jewish relations did not end in 1965; rather, they began a new course in 1965.
Many signs during the 1960s pointed toward an easing of religious bias in the Hub. The book, A Tale of Ten Cities, published in 1962, compared relations between Catholics, Protestants, and Jews in several cities. The authors asserted that the fight for better race relations helped pull Boston’s religious leaders together. The authors noted the continuation of “intergroup religious tensions” but also maintained that Cushing made a “gigantic” contribution to intergroup amity. Other Boston leaders also had an important impact, including Father Robert F. Drinan, a main force behind the Boston College Dialogues:
In recent years, the temperate and friendly voice of Father Robert F. Drinan, S.J., dynamic young dean of the Boston College Law School, has done much to ease religious tensions in the Hub area.2
Cardinal Cushing spoke about the new spirit in Boston in 1964. At a dinner banquet he said:
All of us can see a better Boston appear before our eyes…we should mention the new and wonderful spirit of cooperation which has come to exist between the various religious groups. Whatever there was in the past of bitterness and misunderstanding, is now giving way to forces of ecumenism which, without removing our differences, emphasize our common commitment to the human conscience and the dignity of man. We see ourselves now more truly as neighbors, working together not only for our own good but also for the benefit of others.3
Cardinal Cushing, the formation of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston and the Second Vatican Council have played the greatest influence in leading Boston Catholics and Jews into a new era. Cushing’s working and personal relationship with Jews like Abram Sachar personified a changing Boston. Vatican II introduced enormous changes in Catholic liturgy and the ways Jews are represented in Church texts. Changing official Church doctrine was crucial and Boston religious leaders ensured that changes made at Vatican II were implemented in the city.
Cardinal Cushing established the Catholic-Jewish Committee through the Boston Archdiocese. By organizing this committee, Cushing set up a working dialogue for years to come. Because prejudices die slowly, leadership and education are crucial to changing the hearts and minds of people. Philip Perlmutter, a founding member of the Catholic-Jewish Committee and past Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston, said his interactions with Catholics in Boston taught him about “Catholics as real people, as committed believers, as victims of Yankee intolerance, and as dear friends.”4
Even years after his death, Cushing remained a prominent figure in Boston interreligious history. Bostonians of all faiths preserved his legacy. In a 1995 Pilotspecial tribute to Cardinal Cushing on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, many Catholics commemorated Cushing. However, a memorial to Cushing would have been incomplete without Jewish representation. In addition to articles from Catholics, the paper featured a story by Albert Schlossberg, a Jewish war veteran. Schlossberg recalled his friendship with Cushing and described Cardinal Cushing fondly as “the epitome of a ‘Mensch!’”5 Indeed, Cardinal Cushing’s ecumenical efforts and his work with the Jewish Community Council led Boston into a new era of interfaith relations.
Changes in Rome, 1965 – present
Nostra Aetate in 1965 marked a new beginning for the global Catholic-Jewish relationship. Church representatives and the newly formed International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), conducted their first formal meeting in Rome in 1970. The IJCIC in recent years has organized dialogue across the world between Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodox Christians.6In 1974, Paul VI established a Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, which is officially described as “attached to but independent of the Secretariat for Christian Unity.”7 Also in 1974, the Vatican issued a second document on the Jews, titled “Guidelines for the Implementation of Nostra Aetate.”8 Cardinal Willebrands, of Dutch origin, attended the Second Vatican II and has played a pioneering role in Catholic-Jewish relations. He presided over the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, which established the “Guidelines for the Implementation of Nostra Aetate.” In a speech on “Ten Years in the New Spirit of the Vatican Council,” he said,
Certainly, dialogue between Catholics and Jews is weighed down by history, and we are grateful that it is now possible to engage in it with trust and mutual respect. For it is without doubt the declaration of the Second Vatican Council that has opened up this possibility. The new document [the “Guidelines”] for the application of the council declaration gives many concrete suggestions for the development of this dialogue.9
In 1985, the Church went further and devised “Notes on the Correct Way To Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church.” The Church marked the twenty-year celebration of Nostra Aetate in 1985 with numerous exchanges and colloquia in Rome and around the world. In the United States alone, Catholics and Jews met in at least forty states and at some seventy different celebrations.10 A year later Pope John Paul made a historic visit to the Jewish synagogue in Rome on Palm Sunday. With his visit to a synagogue, the Pope transformed Christian-Jewish reconciliation from words on paper to words with people.11
In the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) has written three major documents on Catholic-Jewish relations in the past fifteen years. Written exclusively for American Catholics, these papers expand upon Nostra Aetate. The Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion published in 1988, by the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, explains how to sensitively depict Jesus when re-enacting the Passion.12 The second document, Within Context, aims to reach Catholic educators and explains Jesus in the context of his Judaism. In 1988, the NCCB addressed the document “God’s Mercy Endures Forever” to preachers.
Religion in the Athens of America
In recent years in Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, Bishop William Murphy and Lenny Zakim, Director for the New England Anti-Defamation League from 1984 until his death in 1999, have led Catholic-Jewish relations into the twenty-first century.13Zakim created a black-Jewish seder in the early 1980s and a Catholic-Jewish seder. He also made history when he helped develop a joint Boston Catholic-Jewish pilgrimage to Israel in 1999. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the Anti-Defamation League of New England sponsored the trip and Bernard Cardinal Law, Rabbi Samuel Chiel, Bishop William F. Murphy, and Lenny Zakim all traveled to Israel together. The trip symbolized the close relationship between Boston Catholic and Jewish leaders.
Today the Boston Catholic-Jewish relationship is one of the best in the country, according to Monsignor Peter Conley, present editor of The Pilot.14 Larry Lowenthal, area director of the American Jewish Committee, concurred. He explained how Boston religious leaders are taking strides to emphasize Catholic-Jewish relations at the local level through establishing partnerships between Boston churches and synagogues.15 Father David Michael, the Archdiocesan Liaison to the Jewish Community and Catholic Chaplain at Brandeis University, described the relationship between the Boston Archdiocese with the Jewish leadership as a long-standing one built of trust and mutuality. Despite the strong ties within Catholic and Jewish leadership, the main concern in recent years has been on filtering this down to the community level. Under Father Michael’s direction, the New Directions Program, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and the Archdiocese, have taught approximately 1500 Catholic teachers in the past five years about how to teach Christian history accurately and sensitively, with respect to its Jewish roots.16“There’s a concerted effort on the part of the leaderships of the Catholic Church in the archdiocese of Boston. Much work remains to be done [on the community level]; we still have a long way to go,” Father Michael explained.
A recent example illustrates how far Catholic-Jewish relations have come in recent years. Vandals put a hate symbol two years ago on the Adams Street Synagogue in Newton, the oldest synagogue in the city, on the Jewish Sabbath. During Sunday morning services at a nearby church the following day, Father Walter Cuenan at asked everyone to leave services and pray in front of the synagogue.17 This incident provided a stark contrast with Boston of the 1940s. Perhaps Boston’s Christians and Jews can reconcile their pasts and fulfill the dream of John Winthrop, Massachusetts’ first Governor who wrote that “we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection.”18