BOSTON — Hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims packed a hall in St. Mark’s Catholic Church Sunday night, “in prayer and solidarity” following a week of terror on the city’s streets.
Originally planned as a US Senate candidate’s rally for the state’s open seat, the meeting focused instead on healing and communal unity.
The gathering was one of several interfaith events held since terrorists attacked the Boston Marathon on April 15, killing three people and wounding some 140 more. Efforts to mourn were aggravated on April 18, when further violence left an MIT campus police officer dead and the area in lock-down for a prolonged manhunt.
For greater Boston’s 250,000 Jews, the April 15 attack and aftermath converged with Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days. Commemorations and celebrations reversed course to focus on the attack, including its connection to life in Israel.
“I arrived at the scene of the bomb blasts within three or four minutes of them occurring,” said Kurt Schwartz, undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Massachusetts.
‘As I walked amongst the wounded and dead, I couldn’t help but think of Israel’
“As I walked amongst the wounded and dead, I couldn’t help but think of Israel,” Schwartz told The Times of Israel. “What I saw instantly reminded me of so many images of attacks in Israel. It is something that I never wanted to see in Boston.”
Schwartz traveled to Israel in December of 2011 with other security officials to study best practices from Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency service, and trauma experts.
“What I learned and saw during that trip helped me respond to the attack,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz was not alone in thinking of Israel. Hundreds of Jews run the Boston Marathon or volunteer along the route each April, many in order to benefit local charities.
Rachel Glazer, a mother of young twins from Needham, has run the marathon four times. Last month, she ran the half-marathon in Tel Aviv when a heat wave forced officials to cancel the full race.
Glazer decided not to run in Boston last Monday, and instead volunteered as an announcer to direct runners after the finish line.
“I heard very loud noises and saw smoke, and it smelled strange,” Glazer said of the bombing just two blocks from her volunteer post. “No one knew where to go or if there would be more explosions.”
In 2002, Glazer walked away safely from another terror bombing: on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, the site of many such attacks over the decades.
‘I am unfortunately familiar with this kind of horror’
“I am unfortunately familiar with this kind of horror,” Glazer said. “But as I volunteered at the Boston Marathon finish line in my own city – no, that was not something I expected could happen here. I feel like a part of us was stolen away.”
Memories of the lives taken away and forever altered dominated the city’s first interfaith gathering following the attack on April 18. President Barack Obama delivered remarks after clergy-members called for healing.
“Grief contributes to loss and pain, but the way to overcome is to maintain a sense of life’s goodness and purpose,” Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel of Boston told mourners.
Friedman’s synagogue played host to the congregation of Boston’s Trinity Church Sunday morning. The church’s Copley Square building is part of the active crime scene around the bombings.
Dubbed a “Sunday Adventure” by church leaders, the Episcopal service drew more than 800 worshippers to pray in the city’s largest Reform synagogue. Priest-in-charge Samuel T. Lloyd III called the service “an unforgettable day in Trinity Church’s long life.”
A second interfaith gathering took place Sunday afternoon near the marathon finish line, at the edge of the blocks-long crime scene. Religious leaders carrying holy books and faith symbols spoke quietly with members of the public and reporters from around the world.
“I will never forget what I saw this week in Boston,” said Shai Bazak, Israel’s consul general to New England. “Within hours of the attack, the community through Combined Jewish Philanthropies raised $100,000 for the victims and recovery.
‘The Jewish community of Boston is more used to responding to terror attacks in Israel, such as in its sister-city Haifa’
“The Jewish community of Boston is more used to responding to terror attacks in Israel, such as in its sister-city Haifa. It was an honor to be part of Boston and the community’s response this week.”
Bazak was particularly grateful to Governor Deval Patrick, who participated in what was supposed to be Israel’s 65th anniversary celebration on Tuesday. But instead of a celebration, Patrick and other leaders mourned bombing victims and called for solidarity.
The attack and its aftermath elicited all kinds of reactions from Jewish community members, some warning against hysteria and intolerance.
“So they were Muslims,” wrote Georgi Vogel Rosen, a member of Boston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, in an open letter. “[That] doesn’t change the fact that the Saudi student who was injured in the blast and tackled to the ground by a vigilante had nothing to do with the bombing. Or that the Palestinian doctor pushing her child in a stroller [near Boston] had done nothing wrong when she was assaulted for being a ‘terrorist.’”
Rosen said she hoped that the week of violence “will not result in further backlash against innocent, patriotic American Muslims.”
Other Jewish leaders warned the attack and its perpetrators herald a dangerous trend in anti-American terrorism.
Cambridge Rabbi Baruch Stone volunteers as an auxiliary police officer with the Somerville Police Department, in the same unit slain MIT police officer Sean Collier served in for three years.
“These [alleged] terrorists were living in Cambridge, a liberal bastion, with every opportunity available to them,” Stone said. “None of this prevented them from being brainwashed and radicalized.”
Massachusetts residents will observe a moment of silence Monday at 2:50 p.m., to honor victims of the attack and their families. Bells will be rung throughout the state after the moment of silence.
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