Metro, Newton

Newton Mayor Denounces Hamas Attack, Says Police Presence Around Synagogues Will Increase

Newton officials including Mayor Ruthanne Fuller hosted a forum at city hall on Wednesday night to bring attention to antisemitism in the city, which took on heightened significance after Hamas launched an attack on Israel over the weekend, Fuller said.

“As mayor of the City of Newton, I want to start by repeating the words of the president of the United States,” Fuller said. “Hamas’ attack on Israel is pure, unadulterated evil.”

The city planned the event long in advance of the weekend’s attacks, according to Fuller’s newsletter. Tensions in the Middle East escalated after Hamas—a Gaza-based Islamist political and military organization designated as a terrorist group by the United States—abducted hostages during a surprise attack near the Israel-Gaza border, and Israel then declared war, according to the Associated Press. The outlet reported that the conflict has claimed more than 2,800 lives.

As a precautionary measure, the Newton Police Department (NPD) will heighten its presence around the city’s synagogues, Fuller said.

Fuller said the gathering was painful but necessary in light of the attacks. She said that her thoughts are with all those who are connected to the conflict.

“Here at home, this is a time in Newton when Jews are hurting,” she said. “And we know this is a time in Newton when Palestinians are hurting.”

Several speakers made remarks during the program, including Keith Stern, a rabbi at Temple Beth Avodah. He, too, said that the event was planned months in advance. 

“This program was planned—believe me—months ago,” Stern said. “But just in those few days, from Saturday to this moment, so much has changed.”

He said recent events—and other incidents of antisemitism—make clear the importance of forums like Wednesday evening’s.

“Ironically, current events underscore the need for this conversation about antisemitism and hate,” Stern said. “Because its virulence, its reach is terrifying.” 

He also said that, despite Newton’s low crime rate, the Jewish community is fearful due to the violence.

“As safe as I feel we are in Newton, if you talk to any of the synagogue personnel from their various houses of worship … most of them are going to be closing on Friday morning because of threats made by Hamas,” Stern said. “That is not a political act of liberation, it is a calculated act of terrorism and antisemitism.”

Newton’s population of 87,000 residents is roughly 30 percent Jewish, according to a 2016 article from The Boston Globe.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said the county and commonwealth will do everything they can to ease fear that stems from the recent events. She also praised the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization formed to address antisemitism globally, for its efforts to address hate crimes.

“The ADL has been a reliable source of information—preventive programs and data—for everybody that is doing this work,” Ryan said. “They’ve been really instrumental in helping us to gather experts, to address our task forces, to come with us to communities when things happen.”

Fuller said there is no place for discrimination in Newton.

“We are here together to speak out against antisemitism and hate, violence and terrorism,” she said. “We join together to stand up for our community values of respect and inclusion, diversity and equity, acceptance and compassion.”

Update (Oct. 18, 2023 11:25 p.m.): This article was updated to describe Hamas as an Islamist political and military organization in an effort to reflect the Associated Press’ language. It was previously referred to as an Islamic political and military organization in this article.

October 13, 2023