Since Oct. 7, when Hamas massacred 1,400 people in Israel, Jews from across the North Shore, Merrimack Valley, and Greater Boston have met to find solace and strength.
Since the attack, Rabbi Idan Irelander of Congregation Ahavat Olam in North Andover has been holding healing sessions with congregants on Zoom. On Oct. 9, he gathered with other area clergy and more than 200 others at a North Andover youth center to express his shock about the terror attack.
“This is a battle against darkness and hatred, a fight against brutal crimes against humanity. These individuals do not adhere to Western values and principles; they do not believe in human rights and negotiations,” said Irelander.
The next night, Oct. 10, about 900 attended a prayer vigil for Israel at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott. “Our hearts are breaking, God. We pray for the lives of the innocent civilians who have been heartlessly kidnapped by Hamas,” Rabbi Michael Ragozin said before lighting a memorial candle for the victims. “Bring them home. Watch over them. We pray for the lives of the soldiers who have been taken captive. We pray for their safe return. Shelter them, God. We pray for the souls of the innocent victims who were brutally slaughtered.”
Rabbi Michael Schwartz, who leads Temple Sinai in Marblehead, is an Israeli citizen who lived there for 20 years. “Now is not the time to be afraid, now is the time to be united, to be strong for one another, to lift one another up, to give courage to one another, so that we can all stand strong for Israel and the Jewish people,” he told the hushed room.
Rabbi Marc Baker, who leads Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Greater Boston, announced that his organization had begun an emergency fund for Israel. To date, CJP has raised $45 million. “Those who seek to destroy us also seek to divide us. We will only defeat them when we stand together,” said Baker. “We raise our voices in unity to declare without any equivocation we condemn terror and hate. We condemn the demonization of Israel, and the dehumanization of Israelis.”
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore said that Hamas terrorists were continuing to inflict pain through psychological warfare. “What is a terrorist? A terrorist is someone who feels successful and is only successful when they have instilled fear into the hearts and minds and souls of a people,” he said. “We will not fear. Stop watching videos. Every video of Hamas is meant to drive fear into our hearts. Don’t watch them.”
He then recited El Malei Rachamim – the memorial prayer for the departed. The program concluded with the singing of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, and “Am Yisrael Chai” – the song that declares that the people of Israel live.
In Gloucester, about 200 filled Temple Ahavat Achim for an event entitled, “We Stand with Israel” on Oct. 15. At nearby Gloucester City Hall, the Israeli flag had been raised on Oct. 13, and Mayor Greg Verga issued a proclamation that condemned “the horrific violence and extreme acts of terrorism suffered by the State of Israel at the hands of Hamas.”
Rabbi David Kudan of Ahavat Achim led the proceedings at the temple, and other Cape Ann clergy attended. “We will not be silent. We refuse to let these crimes go unanswered,” said Kudan.
Still, he noted former Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir’s statement, at the end of the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago, that she could forgive Israel’s enemies for fighting against her country, but she could not forgive them for making Israel’s children into killers. “If we cease to care about others, even our enemies, we will have handed the haters a victory, we will have lost our very humanity. Let us resolve never to cease caring about other human beings – even our enemies. Let us affirm today and every day of this terrible war that we are all created in the Divine image – children of Adam and Eve.”
On Oct. 18, about 75 gathered on the front lawn of Peabody City Hall. During a short solidarity vigil, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt expressed his solidarity with Israel, and then raised the Israeli flag.
“I think this is an important day for our community to come together in Peabody to show our support for Israel, to show our support for the Jewish community of Peabody, and across the world,” said Bettencourt. “What’s taken place is horrific. It really hits at my heart and so many in our city and we really wanted to be here to pray, and be in solidarity.”
Several Peabody rabbis attended, including Ner Tamid’s Rabbi Richard Perlman and Chabad of Peabody Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman.
Rabbi Perlman counseled Jews they need to connect and listen to one another during this moment of grief. “Last week prior to our Friday night service, we had a one-hour opportunity for people just to express their feelings,” he said. “And it was amazing to hear people just talk, and get their feelings out. Because that’s really what we all need to do – is express our emotions. Get that anger and that pain out. And you’ll hear it today in a big loud silence.”
Said Rabbi Schusterman, “It’s at times like this that we have to get together, put aside our differences, for events that bring unity amongst the Jewish people. Historically, during Talmudic times, and throughout Jewish history, one of the things that has always helped us withstand difficult times is Jewish unity, and this a beautiful event of unity.”
Miriam Weinstein contributed to this article.