AUGUSTA — Rabbi Erica Asch told roughly 200 people of all faiths packed into Temple Beth El for an emotional Shabbat service Friday night their support, since the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh, has been amazing.

But she also said their prayers and shows of support are not enough.

“We must leave the sanctuary and do more,” Asch told the hundreds of attendees gathered in the temple which Charles Cohen, president of Temple Beth El-Augusta, said would draw around a dozen attendees on a more typical night. “It’s on us to welcome everyone to our country. It’s on us to stand up versus hate, in the grocery store … or on the playground. It’s on us to stand publicly, every single day, for a world of justice and compassion and peace. May we have a Shabbat that prepares us for the work ahead. Because after Shabbat, we have work to do together.”

Community members of all faiths were invited to join in on Friday Shabbat services at Temple Beth El in Augusta in the wake of the Oct. 27 attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue in which 11 people were shot and killed.

Temple member Ellen Freed said the show of support for the Jewish community in central Maine took her breath away.

“This is a community that was feeling vulnerable,” she said of Jews after the Pittsburgh shootings. “Yet look at this. Here we are together, surrounded by comfort and support.”

Temple members Robert and Ava Gross, of Gardiner, said the attacks did cause them to consider their own safety before going to Friday’s event.

Robert Gross, who holds a concealed weapons permit, said he considered bringing a gun with him, for protection, but decided not to.

Ava Gross said she hoped there would be police at the temple for Friday’s services. No police were readily visible Friday night, though Asch previously said an Augusta police officer was stationed outside Temple Beth El last Sunday, the day after the Pittsburgh attack, at the request of temple members shaken by the massacre.

Ava Gross said she’s not a very religious person and doesn’t come to the temple often. She said, nearly choking up, she felt she had to be there Friday, to be with her people, and to remember the victims of the shooting.

Several local leaders and followers of other religions attended the services, in a show of support for the Jewish community.

They included the Rev. Bob Farley, pastor at Seventh Day Adventist Church in Augusta and his wife, Cheri.

He said he came because he felt, as a member of a local church family, he should come show support.

Asch said Temple Beth El was on a list of synagogues, accessed by the Pittsburgh attacker, which worked with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, or HIAS, to help resettle refugees. Tree of Life, the Pittsburgh synagogue, also was on that list.

The open services came at the end of a week, following the attack, of events held to support the Jewish community across the state, including a memorial Sunday night at Colby College; a vigil in Rockland attended by hundreds; a vigil that drew an overflow crowd to Congregation Bet Ha’am synagogue in South Portland; and a brief march in Augusta by Shia Muslims, as part of their observance of Arba’een, who said they wanted to show their support for their Jewish neighbors.

On Thursday at the Augusta City Council meeting, Mayor David Rollins read a city proclamation declaring Friday to be a day of prayer and reflection, and decrying the violence in Pittsburgh and noting that Augusta is a welcoming community that condemns the assassination of innocent people of faith in their house of worship.

“I want to reflect on the incredibly troublesome aspect of hate crimes and a trend that is definitely growing,” Rollins said. “The worst thing we can do is sit back in silence and not rise against it. In peaceful reflection, through prayer to any and all faiths. This is not the country we want to be. And these aren’t the principles we’re built upon. We cannot allow this to continue to erode the goodness that is the United States. Join me in concern, in positiveness toward your fellow man.”

Asch said she and the Jewish community are grateful, but not surprised, that Augusta has been so welcoming to everyone and that people have reached out to the Jewish community. She encouraged everyone to “take a moment to reflect on how our words and deeds tonight, and in the days and weeks ahead, can show our commitment to creating a city overflowing with justice and mercy and with peace.”

Shabbat, or sabbath, is described by Temple Beth El’s website as the most important day in the Jewish week, a time for participants to rest, reflect and replenish themselves spiritually as they join together in prayer and blessings.

A gathering with desserts and other snacks was planned after the Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Beth El, a small sanctuary tucked into a residential neighborhood on Woodlawn Street.

The temple’s board of trustees decided to invite the broader community to come to the already-scheduled Shabbat service Friday night after the attacks in Pittsburgh. An invitation to the public for the event stated the trustees “believe we can help combat hatred and bigotry through knowledge and relationship building.”

Asch read the names of all those killed at Tree of Life, many of whom were elderly and at the synagogue to attend naming ceremonies for a baby.

She said hate crimes against Jews were up by 57 percent in 2017 and other minority groups are also increasingly targets of hate crimes.

But she said she still has hope.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: