Remembering Sid Topol

By Mike Felsen, BWC Member and Former Board President

Boston Workers Circle – among so many others – lost a true friend, a champion, and a kindred spirit when Sid Topol died a few weeks ago, on March 30, 2022.  Sid was 97 – and he was active, engaged, passionate to the end.  A long life fully lived.

(pictured right with Jenny Silverman, 2015)

 

A self-described “boychik from Dorchester,” Sid never forgot his modest roots.  His father was a produce “peddler;” his mother had worked in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory around the time of its infamous fire.  Sid grew up in Jewish Boston, steeped in Yiddishkeit.  A very proud graduate of Boston Latin School, he studied electrical engineering, developed satellite dish technology, and became the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  But, at his core, peace and social justice were his true passions.

 

I first met Sid when BWC was helping to lead a campaign to end a series of bitter lawsuits between Boston’s organized Jewish and Muslim communities over the building of a large mosque in Roxbury.  Sid, among other progressive Jewish community members and rabbis, actively assisted our efforts to support the Muslim community’s right to build its mosque by calling for mediation of the disputes.  Ultimately, the lawsuits were dropped, and the mosque was completed. 

 

Sid’s connection to BWC only grew from there.  He joined us for vigils where, at Park Street Station, we read the names of Palestinians as well as Israelis who had died in the Gaza wars.  He loved A Besere Velt’s concerts, sung in Yiddish about subjects like immigration, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and, yes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  He joined us for our community seders (pictured left, 2017), steeped in our traditions, but also resonant with themes of peace and justice -- focused on the struggles for equity of contemporary immigrants, people of color, and Palestinians.  And he was deeply moved by our high holidays – also because their power derives from our community’s commitment to fighting for social and economic justice for all people.

 

Sid cherished many causes: Israeli-Palestinian peace, an end to the Occupation, racial justice, non-violent protest as a means to achieve justice and peace.  Among his greatest philanthropic efforts has been his funding of Topol Fellowships in Non-Violent Resistance at a number of prestigious universities.  In his recently published memoir, Sid mentions Ben Naimark-Rowse, the first doctoral Topol Fellow, noting that he and Ben, (who now lives in Paris and is a BWC shule graduate), “are both also active in Workers Circle, a progressive Jewish social justice organization.”  And Sid’s generosity included Boston Workers Circle, a place he truly felt at home.

 

At Sid’s funeral, journalist and political commentator Peter Beinart delivered the eulogy.  He marveled at the fact that Sid and a very different person – Sheldon Adelson – are of roughly the same generation and come from roughly the same neighborhood.  Beinart noted in his speech, and in his testimonial in Sid’s memoir, that it’s easy to despair about the impact men like Adelson have had on Israel and the U.S.  But, he said:

 

“Sid is a living reminder that there is another American Jewish tradition—it’s the tradition of Jews who fought child labor and Jim Crow and McCarthyism and the Vietnam War.  It’s the tradition that inspires young American Jews to go to jail protesting Israel’s crimes in the West Bank.

 

Sid is not simply a mensch.  He’s an inspiration. He’s the model of a life well-lived.”

 

Beinart concludes by saying he’s deeply honored to count Sid as a friend.  I too was so honored, as was Boston Workers Circle.  He’s already missed.

 

 

Mike Felsen