A world away from Israel and the Gaza Strip, hundreds of people gathered in Marblehead and Swampscott recently to sing, pray and hope for peace amid bloody terror attacks and a war.
On Sunday, Oct. 15, people filled Star of the Sea Church for an interfaith vigil conducted by the Marblehead Ministerial Association, including rabbis, priests, reverends and other faith leaders.
Rabbi Michael Schwartz of Temple Sinai shared stories of close friends in Israel impacted by Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7, including two women who had led organizations to build bridges with Palestians. One woman was kidnapped, the other was killed.
Schwartz said Israel must root out Hamas. He acknowledged that innocent Gazans may die in the process.
“All of us will have to wrestle with our own souls, how are our own souls are going to cope with that,” he said. “We do what we have to while still seeking peace.”
Marblehead’s Melissa Kaplowitch, co-chair of the ADL North Shore Advisory Committee, spoke about the pain and fear her family has experienced since Oct. 7. Her daughter was walking by an anti-Israel protest in New York City where she heard people chanting, “Gas the Jews.”
“My son, who is at Marblehead High School, asked if it was okay to wear his Star of David to school,” she said.
Her ADL co-chair, Lesley Dever, pointed out that some Jewish children in Marblehead are now afraid to go to school or to go to the JCC.
Kaplowitch, whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, added, “‘Never again’ is now. Your Jewish friends are sad. The more you ask, ‘Are you okay?’ the safer we will feel.”
Earlier in the week, more than 1,000 people gathered at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.
“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. “However you walked in, you left feeling resolute and resilient.”
Sixteen-year-old Yuri Volkov, a junior at Marblehead High School, visited Tel Aviv and Israel last summer with the Y2I program and came to Shirat Hayam with his parents and 11-year-old brother.
“We have family and friends in Israel,” he said. “What happened is very upsetting and scary.”
Jack and Rita Matlis, also of Marblehead, said the stories out of Israel 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.”
Both vigils ended with children being called forward to sing — a Hebrew prayer for peace in Marblehead and the Israeli national anthem in Swampscott.