By Josefin Dolsten
(JTA) – On Thursday, Nov. 14, the crowded field of Democratic 2020 hopefuls welcomed yet another latecomer to the fray: Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor.
After serving as governor from 2007 to 2015, Patrick worked as a managing director at Bain Capital – the investment firm formerly headed by Sen. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Patrick, 63, also served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.
Patrick, the first African-American governor in Massachusetts, implemented the health care reform in his state that Romney, his gubernatorial predecessor, had enacted, and worked to improve the state’s education system.
He also built ties between different faith and ethnic communities, and forged a close relationship with his state’s Jewish community.
Jeremy Burton, the executive director of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, recalled the ease with which Patrick would participate in Jewish events.
“He considered himself at home when he was in a Jewish space, and the Jewish community considered him to be part of it,” Burton told JTA on Thursday.
Here are some of the highlights of Patrick’s interactions with the Jewish community.
1. A rabbi gave the benediction at his inauguration.
Patrick first met Rabbi Jonah Pesner when he was exploring a run for governor. Pesner, who now serves as the director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, was involved at the time with interfaith work in Boston. The two grew so close that Patrick asked the rabbi to deliver the benediction at his inauguration as governor in 2007. Patrick later returned the favor by giving the keynote address at Pesner’s installation at the RAC in 2015.
“He was able to uniquely give a speech that told the story of the importance of Jewish leadership inside and through our work in civil rights and social justice in America and across the world,” recalled Pesner, who before heading the RAC was rabbi of Temple Israel in Boston.
2. He has received several Jewish awards.
In 2009, Patrick received an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa for, according to the school, his leadership and contribution to social equality, protection of religious freedom and civil rights, and promoting friendship with Israel. The previous year, he had signed a $1 billion law to promote research and business with the Jewish state.
The American Friends of the Yitzhak Rabin Center honored him with the 2014 Yitzhak Rabin Leadership and Public Service Award for his work to improve the economy in Massachusetts and promote the state’s trading partnership with Israel. In 2016, the American Jewish Committee’s New England chapter chose Patrick to be the inaugural recipient of its Coexistence Award for his efforts to promote understanding among ethnic, religious and racial groups.
Patrick serves as founding chairman of Our Generation Speaks, an organization founded in 2014 that brings together Israeli and Palestinian youths through entrepreneurship. Patrick introduced the organization’s founder, Ohad Elhelo, at last year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
3. He led two economic development missions to Israel.
In 2011, Patrick led a trade mission to Israel with local business leaders, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. During the trip he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-President Shimon Peres and other Israeli politicians. Patrick led a similar delegation in 2014, where he and more than 100 participants met with startup founders and other business innovators in Israel.
4. He helped create a direct flight between Boston and Tel Aviv.
For years, Patrick pushed for the Israeli airline El Al to launch a nonstop flight between the two cities. In 2015, his efforts paid off when Boston became the fourth city in North America to have a direct El Al flight to Israel.
5. He invoked Jewish refugees in offering to host refugee children.
In 2014, an influx of women and unaccompanied children from Central America were seeking asylum in the U.S. Talking to a reporter at the time, Patrick cited the experiences of Jews during the Holocaust in arguing for why Massachusetts should host refugee children. “My inclination is to remember what happened when a shipful of Jewish children tried to come to the United States in 1939 and the United States turned them away, and many of them went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps,” Patrick said.