Rabbi Everett Gendler's Story
"We urge people to take advantage of the treasures in our own back yard."
He marched alongside and was arrested with Martin Luther King Jr. in Albany, Georgia, in 1962, one of dozens of rabbis and other clerics who joined the emerging American civil rights movement, determined to confront firmly yet peacefully the centuries of oppression born of black slavery. He was there in Selma, too, and in Birmingham, “when the police dogs and fire hoses were out.” His role in encouraging fellow Jews to join the chorus was seen as a pivotal turning point in a monumental cause.
In late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, the man who many call “the father of Jewish environmentalism” became actively involved in the conservation movement as a hands-in-the-soil practitioner of organic farming and an early adopter of alternative energy. He installed the world’s first solar-powered eternal light on the roof of his Boston-area synagogue in 1978.
As recently as this past summer, 84-year-old Rabbi Everett Gendler, a long-time summer resident and a year-round resident of Great Barrington since his retirement in 1996, made his 13th trek with his wife, Mary, to the Himalayas. They have created there a community education program and center for Tibetan exiles on strategic nonviolent struggle.
“My knee has been a part of it all,” he laughed softly, recalling a life of social, religious, and environmental activism that required not just spiritual but physical endurance.
It was on a much shorter trek through October Mountain State Forest a few years ago that Rabbi Gendler literally fell through the cracks of an old logging road bridge, injuring his right knee. He quickly decided that his mobility was too important to his international work, and he made his way to the office of orthopaedic specialist and surgeon Mark Sprague, MD, of Berkshire Orthopaedic Associates in Pittsfield.
“I had heard that Dr. Sprague had done work with the Boston Celtics, and I figured if he could keep them running better at their pace, he could keep me going at mine.”
That pace is a busy one to say the least, even when they are at home on their 150-acre property at the foot of Monument Mountain. Gendler and his wife have been organic vegetarians for 50 years, and still grow much of their own food. “It was difficult kneeling, bending, and stooping when the knee was in bad shape.”
Of the knee replacement surgery, he said, “Dr. Sprague wielded the knife with obvious skill and compassion,” giving him the ability to resume last summer two of the most important things in his life: his gardening and his international social activism.
Rabbi Gendler admits he already had a “local bias” for BMC and Fairview. When he suddenly weakened while attending a concert at Tanglewood one evening a few summers ago, doctors determined he had heart blockage; he was transported to BMC and then on to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield for a quadruple bypass. He also underwent radiation therapy at BMC for prostate cancer, and sees Dr. Jeffrey St. John for an esophogeal condition.
“I’m a localist,” said Gendler. “We call Fairview our mom-and-pop hospital,” he said, one that’s fully equipped to address whatever medical circumstances arise. If need be, they go to the “big-city hospital up in Pittsfield,” which has “astonishing facilities” and highly qualified medical professionals.
“Thanks to BMC, my wife and I are heading back to the Himalayan foothills this winter for more workshops.”