Profile: Friedman ’69 Is Senior Rabbi at Boston’s Temple Israel

friedmanLike most Bostonians on April 15, 2013, Ronne Friedman ’69 awoke to the anticipation of the 117th Boston Marathon. The excitement turned to fear and grief when two bombs exploded near the finish line. Three people were killed and at least 264 injured, some critically.

Three days later, as senior rabbi of Temple Israel, the largest Reform synagogue in New England, Friedman delivered a prayer at a nationally televised interfaith memorial service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross. The audience of 2,000 included President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Shortly thereafter, largely unheralded in the press, Friedman was among a small group of Jewish and Christian clergy who attended a Friday prayer service at Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. The alleged perpetrators, the Tsarnaev brothers, had attended a mosque in Cambridge, which had ignited anti-Muslim prejudice in some areas.

“At the end of the prayer, the imam called us up and asked us to say something. What was palpable was the degree of appreciation that was shown to us just for showing up and saying, ‘The world isn’t against you. We are in alignment with you.’ ”

As a youngster, Friedman had no ambition to enter religious life. “When I decided to go to rabbinical studies, my father said to my sister, ‘I’ll bet you 1,000-to-1 that it’s not going to happen.’ I was fortunate that after a couple of years in seminary, I took a year off to attend a program that was created for divinity students of all faiths, a kind of seminary without walls. The man who spoke to me about it became my closest friend and mentor, Rabbi Bernard Mehlman.”

Friedman engages in outreach programs for young Jews, Southeast Asian and Soviet Jewish immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. “I graduated Lafayette in the aftermath of the shootings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. I was ardently drawn to a civil rights agenda, to address all kinds of inequality. My sense of what it means to be a Jew in the world came later; the impulses of justice came first.”

An English graduate, Friedman holds a master’s and honorary doctorate from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

— Samuel T. Clover ’91

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