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Mattapan Rabbi Sees Attack on Him Stemming from Urban Tensions

July 18, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A 28-year-old rabbi who was severely burned when two assailants attacked him with an acid bomb in his home here last month said today that the incident may have been related to the tensions between Jews and Negroes in his once predominantly Jewish neighborhood.

Rabbi Gerald B. Zelermyer of Temple Beth Hillel here was the victim of two black youths who rang the doorbell of his home, handed him a note and hurled an acid bomb in his face before fleeing. The note began, “dearest rabbi,” contained obscene language and ordered him to get out of “get out of town,” he said. Temporarily blinded but since fully recovered, the rabbi said he was unable to identify his assailants. The note was destroyed by the acid, he said. The rabbi said his assailants obviously knew who he was and that they apparently had been watching his home, where he lives alone, for some time. He added this indicated that the attack was planned and not a random incident but he indicated that he could think of no reason why he was singled out. He added he intended to remain in Mattapan.

The rabbi told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he tried to withhold news of the assault for fear of increasing neighborhood tensions but the story was published in the Advocate, a Jewish weekly in Boston. It spurred the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Boston to join with rabbis in the Dorchester-Mattapan section to alert city officials to the need for more protection and other help. A meeting was held with police officials who promised to provide adequate police protection for congregants, particularly the elderly. Robert Segal, JCC director, urged residents to report all incidents to the JCC and to rely on police to provide safety.

Rabbi Zelermyer said he considered the attack on him part of the spreading malaise affecting most large cities where aspiring blacks confronted established whites. In Mattapan, he said, the whites happen to he Jews, those too old or too poor to have joined the white exodus to the suburbs. In Mattapan, he told the JTA, black families are moving in as Jewish families depart. He said that real estate speculators, “block busters,” both Negro and Jewish, were trying to panic Jewish families into selling their property. He reported that Negroes had sought to buy his synagogue’s quarters and that their intermediary was a Jew.

He asserted that the problems in Mattapan had nationwide significance and were “as important to Jews as the Six-Day War.” He said national Jewish agencies were neglecting “the needs of poor, urban Jewish communities.” He added that such communities needed social workers and other facilities for the aged and the poor but that the Jewish agencies apparently felt they were “a poor investment.”

The Advocate declared editorially that “the most shameful reaction” by the community to the attack would be “simply to ignore this plethora of human problems.” In a statement in the Advocate, the rabbi said that the fault was not in the “black incursion” into Mattapan but with the community which had “sounded a requiem for our area through almost wholesale indifference to our plight. The affluent have left. The less affluent, who need help, mostly remain.”

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