Finding strength together here amid brutality and heartache in Israel, Gaza

A world away from Israel and the Gaza Strip, more than 1,000 people gathered Wednesday night to sing, pray and stand united for peace. The program at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott came just days after the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust and Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas.

Leaders from Marblehead, Swampscott and around the North Shore and Boston spoke at the event, where there was a heavy police presence. Elderly couples held hands, young parents sat with children on their laps and Boston TV crews lined the back of the room.

More than 1,000 people gathered at Shirat Hayam Wednesday evening to support one another after the brutal Hamas attacks in Israel, and Israel’s declaration of war. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

“Hopefully tonight we will find strength in each other’s company,” said Marty Schneer, executive director of the JCC in Marblehead, who led the program.

That’s exactly what happened, said State Rep. Jennifer Armini of Marblehead.

“The evening gave the community an opportunity to experience a range of emotions together — anger, grief, defiance and hope,” Armini told the Current after the event was over. “However you walked in, you left feeling resolute and resilient.”

The 90-minute program featured several speakers, including a 25-year-old Israeli woman who is working at Northeastern University to promote her home country on campus. She cried as she described learning about Hamas’ bloody incursions into Israel.

“For the past five days, I have been living my worst nightmare,” she said. “I need you to stand with me.”

The evening ended with children singing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.

Children came to the front of Congregation Shirat Hayam Wednesday night to sing ‘Hatikvah,’ the Israeli national anthem. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

Sixteen-year-old Yuri Volkov, a junior at Marblehead High School, visited Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last summer with the Y2I program. He came Wednesday night with his parents and 11-year-old brother.

“We have family and friends in Israel,” Volkov said. “What happened is very upsetting and scary.”

Jack and Rita Matlis, also of Marblehead, said the stories out of Israel this week are too familiar.

“Such brutality, I know from Ukraine,” Jack said. “The Nazis murdered my family in Ukraine [during the Holocaust]. It’s not any different.”

Rita added, “It’s important to come and feel supported, to see town and state officials coming here. It means a lot.”

Congressman Seth Moulton, who represents several communities on the North Shore, could not attend because of votes on the House floor, but his veterans’ liaison read a statement.

“I grieve with the Jewish community here at home,” Steve Bohn read. “The world must figure out how to empower the peacemakers.”

The Marblehead Racial Justice Team, Task Force Against Discrimination and Anti-Defamation League are planning another vigil in Marblehead on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. The location is still being determined.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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