On the other side of the world from the Israel-Hamas war, in Havre de Grace, congregants at Temple Adas Shalom gathered together to hold a vigil for the hostages and pray for peace in Israel.
At the Solidarity Candle Lighting for Peace in Israel on Dec. 14, attendees lit Chanukah candles signifying Jewish values that are important to hold during this difficult time, such as self-acceptance, the desire to repair the world, treating people kindly and compassion.
“Let hatred be turned into love, fear into trust, despair into hope and that violent encounters shall be replaced by loving embraces, as we move together forward into reconciliation, like our forefathers Jacob and Esau demonstrated for us so many years ago,” read a passage from the vigil’s program that was read aloud at the event.
The vigil was largely planned by Adas Shalom’s Rabbi Meeka Simerly, as well as Lior Laskowski, a congregant who was previously involved in creating the synagogue’s first-ever LGBTQ Pride Shabbat service earlier in 2023. Laskowski, who lives in Elkton, grew up as a member of Adas Shalom and rejoined the synagogue after moving back to Maryland in 2022.
“I have cousins in Israel and friends who are humanitarian aid workers in Gaza,” she said. “Personally, I view all humans as part of my one extended family, so my heart aches for those touched by violence and conflict in all parts of the world.”
Simerly, who is Israeli, proposed the vigil shortly after the one-month anniversary of Oct. 7, as conflict still raged on in the region. Adas Shalom has both members with close ties to Israel and to the Palestinian territories, so a deft hand was necessary in planning an event focusing on such sensitive subject matter.
“No matter where any of us stand on a political issue, we could all agree on the humanitarian needs for all, and the necessity as a community of prayer to come together and dream of a peaceful future where all are safe,” Laskowski added.
Simerly has lived in the U.S. for the past 30 years, but the attacks of Oct. 7 still shook her and her immediate family. Her older brother, who has been an Israel Defense Forces reservist for 20 years, was drafted again to fight in Gaza. And Adas Shalom was planning a congregational trip to Israel, but it was canceled due to safety concerns.
Still, Simerly plans to return to Israel to see her family and volunteer her services.
“The feeling of heaviness and tragedy for any Israeli who lives outside of Israel right now is awful, because we’re not there and we have to base our information on the media and reports from our family and friends,” she said. “During a time of war, you feel really worried and guilty for not living there.”
Much of Adas Shalom’s congregation supports the peace movement in Israel. In addition to praying for the safe return of Israeli hostages, the vigil was also planned in order to pray for peace in Israel and Gaza.
“We support the peace process; we don’t support any unnecessary bloodshed,” Simerly said.
She also pointed out that many foreigners are among the affected parties, not only Israelis and Palestinians. NPR noted that eight of the remaining hostages are American, and Simerly added many Thai and Filipino workers have been caught in the crossfire or have since left the country.
“Undoubtedly, and without hesitation, we are about ending the war and suffering of innocent people and any kind of hatred, whether it is towards Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, Thai people or anyone else,” she said. “We are sending a clear and strong message that we do not want to support that kind of violence anywhere.”
“Adas Shalom” translates to “a peaceful congregation,” and the synagogue members continue to place an emphasis on supporting peaceful solutions to the Israel-Hamas conflict, regardless of their own political affiliation.
“We can be left, right or center,” Simerly said. “At the end of the day, this vigil was about sharing hope. We’re sharing our call for peace, and we are a peaceful people.”