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Unsung Heroes


Judge Joseph Goldberg and Rev. John Stanley Grauel were passionate supporters of the State of Israel

By Stacey Dresner

WORCESTER – Many in the Central Massachusetts Jewish community remember the late Judge Joseph Goldberg, a passionate Zionist who once served as national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and was named honorary life president of the Worcester Zionist District. 

However, most probably haven’t heard of his good friend Rev. John Stanley Grauel, a Methodist minister and avid supporter of the founding of Israel who became a member of the Haganah and was the only non-Jewish crew member of the Exodus 1947, the ship that carried more than 4,000 Jewish refugees from France to the Port of Haifa, then part of British Mandatory Palestine.

Both of these native sons will be celebrated at “Exodus 1947 & Two Unsung Heroes of Worcester: The Rev. John Stanley Grauel & Judge Joseph Goldberg,” presented by the Jewish Federation of Central Mass.; Christians and Jews United for Israel; and Israel Bonds on Thursday, July 22 both virtually and at Congregation Beth Israel,  15 Jamesbury Drive, Worcester.

“The Rev. Grauel’s connection to the Exodus story was new me. Although I knew the Exodus story, I wasn’t aware of Grauel’s role,” said Steven Schimmel, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. “It is extraordinary, and important to tell for several reasons, most importantly, it helps to strengthen the importance of the Exodus story to know that there were non-Jewish leaders advocating for the passengers aboard the ship. The Exodus story itself was a formative moment in the creation of Israel, it showed the world that Israeli needed to be established, and to have leaders from Worcester involved in this important moment in history is all the more reason why our community should know of the Rev. Grauel.”

Judge Joseph Goldberg

“While Judge Goldberg is remembered as a Zionist leader, I don’t think many people know much about him beyond that,” Schimmel added. “This program will add depth and a better understanding of who he was and will inspire others to carry on his legacy.”

During the event the Federation and Israel Bonds will also celebrate Mark Shear, as well as junior Israel Bond honorees Naomi Schertzer and Charlotte Roiter.

“We had initially planned to hold a stand-alone program for the Exodus presentation and for Israel Bonds, but we decided this was a great opportunity to unite the two programs,” Schimmel said. 

The guest speaker for the program will be Robert W. Bleakney, Ph.D., associate professor at Hebraic Heritage Christian College and author of Evangelical Interpretation After Auschwitz: Planting Seeds for Responsible Deeds. A resident of Worcester, he previously studied at Drew University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Boston University School of Theology, where he was a student of Professor Elie Wiesel.  

At the July 22 event, Dr. Bleakney will speak about the Exodus 1947 and its mission, Grauel’s role leading up to and during the operation, and his friendship with Judge Joseph Goldberg.

Judge Goldberg, who served as chief justice of the Worcester District Court, is fondly remembered for his dedication to the Central Massachusetts Jewish community. While his 40 years of service to the State of Israel and Zionism won him the David Ben Gurion Award in 1976, he also served as president of the Central New England Council of B’nai B’rith; as president and campaign chair of the Worcester Jewish Welfare Fund; and was on the board of both Yeshiva Achewi Timimim and Beth Israel, where he was a longtime member.

Rev. John Stanley Grauel also was a strong supporter of the State of Israel. 

“Reverend Grauel, though he was born in Worcester, grew up here, and worshipped at Wesley Methodist on Main Street, lived in New Jersey as an adult,” says Dr. Bleakney, who fears that not many others have heard of Rev. Grauel and his accomplishments.

“People know about the Exodus, but not about his particular part in it. Among Methodists in New England, I have a feeling that Grauel has been largely forgotten and that’s of concern,” Dr. Bleakney said. “There have been various resolutions not so friendly to Israel at United Methodist events, and I think it would be helpful for the future of Methodist-Jewish relations if Grauel were to be seen not only by Jews, but also by Methodists, as a hero.  And the importance of them remembering is all the greater because Methodists don’t seem to remember that they were two German-American Methodist ministers who spoke well of Hitler and an English Methodist minister, Rev. John Leale on Guernsey Island who collaborated with the Nazis betraying Jews to their killers…There’s a lot of terrible things that happened in the history of Jewish-Christian relations and it’s a good thing when somebody does something positive that can be remembered and so that all the more warrants appreciation.”

Rev. John Stanley Grauel, left, with crew members Yaakov Oron and Aryeh Kolomeitzev, on the deck of the SS President Warfield, which later became the Exodus 1947, before its departure for Europe.

Grauel was a witness to an act of antisemitism in 1940 when he was a student pastor in Stonington, Maine.

“A store of a Jewish shopkeeper got vandalized…so he contacted two other clergy and they put on their clergy robes and led the community in the cleanup,” Dr. Bleakney said. He also was keeping abreast of what was happening to the Jews in Europe during World War II through newspaper accounts.

“He was quite distressed by the news,” Dr. Bleakney said. “His mother was a Methodist Christian and she taught him to respect the Jewish people. So, when he saw news about what was happening in Europe, he had her moral influence in mind and was appalled. He wanted to do something positive.”

Grauel received advice on how to do that from Judge Joseph Goldberg.

“Judge Goldberg was known as a supporter of the Jewish homeland…. So, he knew that Judge Goldberg would be a person to go to talk with about his concerns. Judge Goldberg served in the old courthouse in Worcester which was just a short walk from where the Grauel family lived,” Dr. Bleakney said. “They had an ongoing friendship. In his memoir… Grauel he refers to Goldberg as his ‘friend and Zionist mentor.’”

Judge Goldberg put Grauel in touch with the American Christian Palestine Committee, which supported building a Jewish state. Soon Grauel left his post as a student minister to join the committee’s staff, eventually becoming director of the Philadelphia office. 

“When he worked for the American Christian Palestine group, just down the hall was the office for the Haganah. So, he got acquainted with them,” Dr. Bleakney said. “He became one of the fundraisers for Haganah, so he got to know the leadership. He was there when they had meetings in New York City, so he would have known Chaim Weitzman and David Ben Gurion, he would have known them all. He met Golda Meir in Jerusalem.”

Rev. Grauel eventually joined the Haganah to help smuggle Jewish refugees into Palestine. He posed as a journalist for an Episcopal publication onboard the Exodus, while serving as a member of the galley crew and acting as a liaison between the refugee passengers and the crew.

Dr. Bleakney’s talk will include more information about what occurred when the Exodus 1947 landed in Haifa, as well as testimony that Rev. Grauel gave to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine that Golda Meir reportedly believed aided in the UN’s recommendation to end the British Mandate and partition Palestine.

What led a young Methodist minister to become so involved in the plight of Holocaust survivors and the creation of the State of Israel? 

“I think there’s a sort of mystery there because a lot of other people saw the same news reports and their journeys did not lead to them doing any of this. My guess is it was a matter of incremental steps over time,” Dr. Bleakney said. “My guess is that the more he did, the more deeply it grew.” 

Bleakney came to learn about Rev. Grauel while doing research for his book, Evangelical Interpretation After Auschwitz, a look at post-Holocaust commentaries in Evangelical study Bibles and how many continued to include anti-Jewish sentiments.

While studying Hebrew at the Worcester JCC, Bleakney met Schimmel and introduced him to the story of Grauel.

“I showed him photos I’d gotten from the Holocaust Memorial Museum of Rev. Grauel and said, ‘Here’s a local hero who should be recognized,’” Bleakney recalled. “And there are other people in the collective memory of Worcester — Robert Goddard, a pioneer in rockets; and Abby Kelley Foster and her husband Stephen Foster who are heroes from the abolitionist movement. And I think that Grauel and Goldberg also deserve to be part of the collective memory of the community. How people who remember the past can influence the choices people make looking ahead to the future.” 

“Exodus 1947 & Two Unsung Heroes of Worcester” will be held on Thursday, July 22 at 7 p.m. both in person at Beth Israel, 15 Jamesbury Drive, in Worcester, and on Zoom. To RSVP, visit jfcm.org/exodus.

Main Photo: Rev. John Stanley Grauel

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