Interfaith Shabbat offers community through conflict


On Friday, M.V. Hebrew Center hosted about 200 people from different faiths for a special Shabbat service, focusing on the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Speakers gave speeches, recited poems, and invited attendees to follow along — reading right to left — in the siddur prayer book.

“Welcome in Hebrew is bruchim haba’im, which means ‘blessed are those who come,'” opened Rabbi Caryn Broitman. “I hope we can come together in our hearts tonight. Not around opinions, but about values that we share — compassion, love, moral caring, and connection.”

The service had three main goals, Broitman said: “Our intentions for the service are first to acknowledge our grief — to acknowledge the unspeakable atrocities and terror that occurred last Saturday to innocent Israeli citizens … There are so many people in our community who just greet each other and we start to cry.”

The second intention was to pray for the safety of those held captive, and pray for those — Israeli or Palestinian — suffering in the region.

The third was to strengthen faith and hope in a shared, dignified, and peaceful future, in Israel and in the U.S.

Partway through the services, Broitman asked clergy in attendance to stand and introduce themselves. Greetings came from the Rev. Matthew Splittgerber of Vineyard Assembly of God; the Rev. Susan Waldrop, Interfaith Minister; the Rev. Vicki Hanjian of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury; and many others.

“We ask God’s grace and peace be with you, Israel, and all those in the land,” said the Rev. Dr. Leo Christian of Vineyard Haven’s First Baptist Church.

“I stand here and think of our colleagues and friends at Reconstructing Judaism,” said the Rev. Dr. Storm Swain, associate of Grace Church.

Attendees sang in unison for a lively rendition of Yiddish song “Sholem Lid,” written by Adrienne Cooper. The song was introduced to many for the first time by Rabbi Bryan Walt, who led the reading.

A more somber segment during the service involved a reading of “The Diameter of the Bomb,” a poem by Yehuda Amichai that includes realistic descriptions of destruction and loss.

Rabbi Broitman, speaking again to those in attendance, recalled her visit years ago to Israel, and called for compassion toward all impacted. “[Jews] are not the only ones who are afraid,” Broitman said. “I remember after 9/11, how many Muslims in America were targeted, and Palestinians are afraid too. Palestinian citizens in Israel and the West Bank — and of course in Gaza — they are also afraid. And my solidarity extends to all innocent civilians of the land who had no part in this terror, and just want to live in peace.”

The service concluded with the blessings for bread and wine, after which wine, challah, and other refreshments were shared.

Though the Hebrew Center gathers for Shabbat regularly, Rabbi Caryn Broitman says that this week required a different approach. “It felt like we couldn’t gather without really addressing what was on all of our hearts,” she says. “We felt so supported by the Island community over this week, that we really wanted to be together … I really believe in the power of prayer from different traditions … and our community really wanted to do that.”

Broitman adds that the gathering’s diversity of religious leaders was largely due to the Martha’s Vineyard Island Clergy Association. “We sent out a note to everyone [in the association], and people who could come on that short notice came.”

Broitman says that the event’s turnout exemplifies the solidarity she has been seeing from Island religious groups, even from those who could not attend. “I had many more people really sending greetings and their prayers. There were some clergy who have been so supportive, who couldn’t make that particular night, but they called me, so we really felt really supported by the Island communities of faith,” she said.

Broitman has also heard many stories of compassion from the Island community overall. “I’ve heard from people [whose] friends have called them, given them hugs on the street, texted each other. I really do feel blessed to be part of this community.”

Broitman does not currently have other events planned regarding the conflict, but says that there is always potential for scheduling another: “We will be doing gatherings in [order] to support each other as long as it takes. Obviously we don’t know the future [of the conflict], but the Hebrew Center is a very close community … and it’s comforting to be together.

“We will [gather] as needed, and obviously we pray for a peace so that we can move to rebuilding a better future,” says Rabbi Broitman.

In a section from the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard newsletter, Rabbi Broitman listed the following organizations for those interested in humanitarian donations as the conflict develops: The National Emergency Fund, the New Israel Fund’s Emergency Response Campaign, the CJP Israel Emergency Fund, Israel Democracy HQ, and Israeli-Palestinian Peace Efforts.