Sidney Topol

Sidney Topol

“The Yiddish culture that came here one hundred years ago was a culture of social justice; of organizing; of labor laws; of child labor laws; a forty-hour work week; giving the woman the right to vote. My work for Middle East peace from a perspective of civil rights and human rights was a follow-on to that.”

Peace Activism
2000 - 2015
J Street
Brit Tzedek v’Shalom
Americans for Peace Now  

Interview Dates
September 17, 2013
March 20, 2014

Interviewer
Aliza Becker

The Interview

Sidney Topol, a groundbreaking innovator and entrepreneur, began his foray into peace activism after retiring. Age has only intensified his deep passion for bringing peace to the Middle East. Topol recounts an early encounter with Israeli political leaders, his efforts to shift the conversation on Israel within the Jewish mainstream, and his involvement with several Israeli-Palestinian peace groups as an activist and philanthropist.

As a child, Topol’s relationship to Israel was the Jewish National Fund pushke his family had on their wall. His immigrant parents “would put pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters” in the blue tin alms box. “It was planting trees and having the dessert bloom. A very lovely rabbi would show up once a month. He had a little silver hammer to open them up and take the money.”

Topol “got involved with Israel” in 1960 when he moved to Italy to work with a joint venture of Raytheon, a company specializing in weapons and military and commercial electronics. In Rome, Topol befriended the military attaché of the Israeli embassy. “Raytheon developed a Hawk missile and was a very important weapon system for Israel anti-aircraft missile. The Israelis had acquired a large number of these missiles.”

During that time, Topol was invited to accompany a delegation of Israelis on a tour of Raytheon’s laboratories and manufacturing facilities followed by lunch in a trattoria. Among the Israelis were Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, future presidents Shimon Peres and Ezer Weizman, and Elkana Kaspi, CEO of the Israeli electronics company Tadiran. Topol was surprised that “they had no Uzis, no guns, no AK45s, no security.”

The 1967 Israeli-Arab War “was a very significant important and emotional event” for Topol as a Jew. “Why, because it showed that not only can we Jews and Israelis be good businessmen doctors, lawyers, Nobel Prize winners, entrepreneurs, but we could be warriors when the time came.” It also “showed the world that we are not going to walk into the ovens ever again without a fight.” He reminisces sadly: After the war “was the time for peace. Instead we started the Occupation, and we started settlements.”

Topol retired in 1990, after a distinguished career at Raytheon and Scientific-Atlanta. He explains, “I was in the corporate world, which is right of center. I had to be cautious, unfortunately, about some of my philosophy and political point of view.” Financial security and retirement meant he no longer needed to be cautious about his political views. “I speak my piece, and I don’t have to be afraid,”says Topol.

Biography

Sidney Topol was born in 1924 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His parents were Yiddish speaking immigrants from Poland. Topol enlisted in the Army Air Corp during WWII, where he was trained as a radar officer.

Topol hold a B.S. in physics and an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from the University of Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard-MIT Radar School and has been awarded the MIT Corporate Leadership Award. Mr. Topol has been inducted into the Satellite Hall of Fame, the Cable Television Hall of Fame, the MTC Hall of Fame and the Georgia Technology Hall of Fame.

Topol was general manager of Selenia Telecommunications, a Raytheon joint venture in Rome, Italy from1960 until 1965, when he became head of Raytheon’s communications division. From there he went to Scientific-Altanta, retiring as Chair and CEO in 1990.

In the Boston area, Topol has served on the board of the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations, Council of Greater Boston, and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

Topol has served on the board of Americans for Peace Now since 2000 and the J Street PAC since 2008. He served on the board of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom from 2004-2009. In 2003, he went to Geneva, Switzerland to witness the signing of the Geneva Accord, a draft agreement to end the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. During that time, Topol was also an active member of American Diaspora Alliance for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, a Boston area dialogue group.  

Topol’s newest peace-related venture is funding programs to create leaders of non-violence at ten universities in the U.S. and Israel.

Topol is President of The Topol Group LLC and The Topol Family Fund.

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