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Boston’s Jewish community mourns a beloved teacher

The death of Rabbi Mosheh Twersky, who was killed Tuesday during a massacre of worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue, touched off an outpouring of grief and anger in his native Boston.

Twersky, who came from a family of prominent Jewish scholars with deep ties to Boston, was dean of Torat Moshe Yeshiva in Jerusalem, an English-speaking school for post-high school students. He was 59.

At a memorial service Tuesday evening at Maimonides School in Brookline, which Twersky attended as a boy, more than 500 mourners exchanged hushed words of condolences, recited age-old prayers, and together, in the words of one, “began the process of healing.”


“I will always remember our friend Mosheh, his modesty, his brilliance, his smile, his kindness,” said Naty Katz, head of the school and, like Twersky, a member of the class of 1973. “We are all heartbroken.”

Twersky, whose father founded the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University and who was the grandson of a leading rabbinical scholar, grew up in Boston, attended Harvard, and immigrated to Israel in 1990.

In Jerusalem, Twersky lived next door to the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue and prayed there regularly, Israeli officials said.

He was there at 7 a.m. Tuesday when two Palestinian men wielding a gun, axes, and butcher knives stormed into the synagogue, where about 30 people were in the middle of morning prayers, officials said.

Rabbi Mosheh TwerskyIsrael Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The men began stabbing worshippers, then opened fire.

The Palestinians were killed in a shootout with Israeli security forces.

The brazen assault drew widespread condemnation. Yehuda Yaakov, Israel’s consul general to New England, said he was shocked by the brutality of the attack, which he said represented the “crossing of a red line” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In Boston, where Twersky and his family are well known, the grief was far-reaching.


“I can still feel that hug today,” Danny Langermann, a lifelong friend who attended the memorial service at Maimonides School, said of a long-ago embrace. “And if there is anything I will carry with me for the rest of my life, it is that hug.”

Earlier in the day, Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, remembered Twersky as a scholar who dedicated his life to teaching, and whose death resonated widely.

“This is felt as a body blow to the Jewish community in Boston,” he said.

Twersky leaves his wife, Miriam, who runs the Hadar Seminary for Women in Jerusalem, and five children between the ages of 23 and 33. The couple has 10 grandchildren, Israel officials said.

He was buried Tuesday at the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem.

Twersky attended Maimonides , New England’s first Hebrew day school, which was founded in the 1930s by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, his grandfather and a leading Jewish theologian.

At Maimonides, leaders said the school was “engulfed in grief and outrage.”

And at Harvard University, where Twersky’s late father, Isadore, directed the Center for Jewish Studies from 1978 until 1993, news of the deadly attack was met with shock and anger.

“I know that I speak for all of us in the CJS community when I say that we are heartbroken at the news of this unspeakable act of sacrilegious cruelty,’’ said Eric Nelson, the current director of the Harvard center. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Twersky family at this terribly sad and difficult time.’’


Isadore Twersky was known for his scholarship on the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, and was the spiritual leader at Maimonides School.

He died in 1997 at age 67.

On Tuesday, Mosheh Twersky was hailed as a beloved teacher in his own right.

Jonathan Benaim, his student at Torat Moshe Yeshiva school, remembered him as a profoundly humble man who always had time for his students and who let loose a pure smile when they suggested something original.

“He was an amazing man who lived every second of his life in pursuit of self-refinement and serving God’s will,” said Benaim, 23. “We all learned not only from what he taught us with his words, but also through his actions and demeanor.”

And at Yeshiva University in New York City, where Twersky’s brother, Mayer Twersky, is a professor, president Richard M. Joel said the deaths were a “family affair.”

“All Jews are victimized by the murder of Jews and the murder of Jews at prayer,” he said. “For us, it’s very personal. It’s personal because we are a family.”

Three other Massachusetts religious leaders issued a statement Tuesday night denouncing the attacks.

“Our prayers go out to those who were wounded and are fighting for their lives and to all those devastated by this attack, especially the families of those who were murdered today,’’ said the statement, issued by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston; Metropolitan Methodios, the Greek Orthodox metropolis of Boston, and the Rev. Laura E. Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.


The statement noted “the death of one of our neighbors from Boston, a member of a distinguished Jewish family,’’ Rabbi Twersky.

A crrowd gathered in the S. Joseph Solomont Synagogue at the Maimonides School in Brookline before a memorial service for Rabbi Mosheh Twerskey. John Blanding/Globe Staff

Evan Allen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at Sean P. Murphy can be reached at