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With Middle East violence on minds, vigil at Town Common promotes peace

by | Nov 27, 2023 | Featured: News, News

Although Hopkinton sits some 5,000 miles away from the Middle East, the reverberations of events in that region are hitting home for residents.

“I have a Jewish family, and just my own children are asking should we be wearing our Star of David out, should we tuck it into our shirts, and should we be worried about violence and the huge uprising of antisemitism,” resident Gwen Altman said. “It’s devastating for everybody, including for anyone of Muslim or Palestinian descent. The racism goes both ways.”

Hopkinton Freedom Team member Ruta Upalekar said her niece who attends college in Atlanta learned Monday morning that Muslim students at her school were attacked.

With the Israel-Hamas war dominating world news, a group of about 40 Hopkinton residents gathered on the Town Common on Monday night for a candlelight vigil billed as a Vigil for Peace. The event was organized after conversations community members had with Hopkinton Public Schools Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh and local religious leaders.

“[Some] school, town, community and religious leaders were noticing some concerns about tensions nationwide and wanted to be proactive about giving an outlet for folks,” explained Sarah Watson, a pastor at Vineyard Church who helped arrange speakers.

The vigil started with a moment of silence as a symbolic gesture of unity and support. Community and religious leaders from various faiths and backgrounds offered reflections and prayers.

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz of Congregation B’nai Shalom, a synagogue in Westborough, was unable to attend but had another vigil attendee share a poignant poem she selected emphasizing protection and peace amidst turmoil.

Among the speakers was Pastor Laurel Coolbaugh from Faith Community Church, who highlighted a message of universal peace drawn from Old Testament prophets. She described God’s vision where nations unite in harmony and people hold gardening tools instead of weapons.

Hopkinton Town Manager Norman Khumalo, who previously has worked for social justice, spoke from his own experience.

“I can share personally that over my 15 years living in this community, I have experienced a very robust definition of peace,” Khumalo said.

He described how peace is not merely the absence of conflict but an active pursuit of unity, solidarity and representation.

State Rep. James Arena-DeRosa also was in attendance, and he spoke about the importance of standing against rising antisemitism and Islamophobia, and having conversations about those issues.

“Let’s get those conversations going ahead of the curve, so that it doesn’t spill over into our communities,” he said.

Syed Hussaini, representing the local mosque, delivered a message of standing up for the oppressed regardless of caste, creed, color or religion.

“If you don’t raise your voice against oppression, it’s one form of supporting it,” Hussaini said.

Cavanaugh, the final speaker of the evening, discussed the impact of recent events on school-age children, acknowledging the challenging emotions students have to navigate. She reminded students that they can speak and gather freely, receive support and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Said Cavanaugh: “It’s so important for our children to stand witness to what peace, love and unity can look like, and I think that they’re seeing that here tonight.”

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