Hundreds gather at an Augusta temple to show support after the deadly attack in Pittsburgh.

AUGUSTA — Rabbi Erica Asch told the roughly 200 people packed into Temple Beth El for an emotional Shabbat service Friday night that their support since the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh last weekend 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 those gathered in the temple. “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 the service Friday night in the wake of the Oct. 27 massacre of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Charles Cohen, president of Temple Beth El, said the service would have drawn around a dozen attendees on a more typical night.

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 Pennsylvania 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 had hoped there would be police at the temple for the service. 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. But she said, nearly choking up, she felt she had to attend on Friday to be with her people, and to remember the victims of the shooting.

Several local leaders and followers of other religions attended the service, 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 that, as a member of a local church family, he should show support.

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

The service came at the end of a week 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, 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. … 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.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

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Twitter: kedwardskj

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