By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Westborough – On Nov. 9, a dark, rainy night — in the wake of the recent Pittsburgh anti-Semitic murders and other mass shootings — hundreds of area residents and religious leaders of all faiths, as well as local and state officials, joined together to support the local Jewish community. The “Solidarity Shabbat” held at Congregation B’nai Shalom (CBS) was marked by diversity, resilience and optimism.
The event was organized by Westborough Connects, a grassroots organization founded only last year. It has already succeeded in reaching its mission: to build a more connected community. Also helping to organize the event was the Rotary Club of Westborough.
“We have been so incredibly moved and touched by the effort of our school superintendent and all those involved in Westborough Connects … It’s been quite overwhelming to see the outreach and we are very moved by the town’s response and their standing with the Jewish community,” said CBS Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz.
Before the service, a large crowd gathered at the nearby Elsie A. Hastings Elementary School. Every parking spot was taken. En masse, they entered CBS in unity and formed a “Community Friendship Circle” by lining both sides of the entry hallway of the synagogue.
As B’nai Shalom members arrived for their weekly Shabbat services, they were greeted and given handwritten letters of support. Prior to the event Westborough Connects had been gathering “thoughts of support, friendship and kindness for Westborough residents of the Jewish faith.”
The sanctuary and social hall were filled to capacity.
Gurevitz and cantorial soloists Lisa Marcus Jones and Sharon Brown Goldstein led a beautiful moving Shabbat service, with contributions by many members of the community.
The prayer, Hineih Mah Tov, was sung: “How good and pleasant it is that brothers and sisters” dwell together.”
Brandeis professor Marsha Nourse, a member of CBS, spoke of an immigrant, a Saudi student at her school, who she said is “spirited, kind and hardworking. He is also distraught.”
He told Nourse, she said, that “my Jewish family and friends helped me reach my potential and restored my faith in God.”
The young man is at Brandeis, he told her, because of HIAS, a Jewish American nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people were murdered Oct. 27, works with HIAS, as does CBS.
Other local leaders addressed the gathering,
School Superintendent Amber Bock spoke about the importance of education in combating hate and prejudice.
“In responding as a community to show unity against hate, we communicate a shared fellowship with others. By standing up and stating shared common goals of love, kindness and tolerance we become a true community,” she said.
Speaking for Westborough Connect, Maureen Ambrosino, the Westborough Library Director as well as Westborough Connects Steering Committee Chair, commented, “Friday’s event is the first step in a broader Westborough Connects commitment to show we support everyone in the community, in times of quiet and in times of crisis. One of the strengths of our community is the way we support each other, and we hope this will be a visible way to demonstrate just that.”
“What defines us is tonight,” Westborough Police Chief Jeff Lourie said. “We are your caretakers, and train to respond to acts of evil and acts of kindness.”
In what was perhaps the most emotional moment of the night, newly elected Westborough Selectman Shelby Marshall held up a rock, and with tears in her eyes, said, “What would you paint on this rock?”
She was referring to “kindness rocks” that her young daughter had done in school.
“One side of her rock said, ‘dream big,’ and the other, ‘you are awesome,’” said Marshall.
During the Oneg, a social time held after the service, a member of the Muslim community was heard saying to his wife, “This was really a beautiful. We should spend some Friday nights here.”
For more information about Westborough Connects, email [email protected].