Sara Frajnd, right, and daughter Ella Frajnd comfort one another during prayer at a vigil at Beth El Temple in Portland on Wednesday to mourn the terror attacks in Israel. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Several hundred people gathered Wednesday night in Portland to share their grief and shock over the surprise weekend attack on Israel by Hamas, a significant show of support that demonstrates how the lives of those lost in Israel has touched people throughout Maine.

The attack left hundreds of Israelis dead, including many innocent civilians and at least 22 Americans. Hamas militants stormed through a border fence Saturday and massacred hundreds of Israelis in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival.

Hamas militants in Gaza are holding an estimated 150 people hostage, including Americans, Israeli soldiers, men, women, children and older adults.

“We have suffered much. We are gathered here today because the Jewish heart has been broken. This is the greatest mass murder of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust,” Rabbi Rachel Isaacs of Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville told the audience that attended the community solidarity vigil at Temple Beth El in Portland.

While the Jewish community grieved, about 60 demonstrators gathered in Monument Square Wednesday night to protest the Israeli government’s military strikes on Gaza. The “Free Palestine” rally was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights. Demonstrators carried homemade signs and waved the tri-color flag of Palestine.

In between chants, speakers likened what they described as Palestinian resistance to the apartheid system in South Africa, the Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s annexation of territory, and the Wabanaki’s efforts to regain tribal sovereignty in the Maine. Some speakers justified the violent Hamas attacks and blamed the mainstream media for ignoring ongoing Israeli violence against Palestinians, claiming that Israeli atrocities had become normalized and only Hamas attacks were being condemned.


“It is understandable that our first reaction might be to say both sides are wrong and violence is bad, but we must put violence in context,” organizer Zach Campbell said. “Only one side in this war is under occupation. … Only one side is treated more like animals than human beings.”

Other speakers, like Sally Bowden-Schaible of Maine Voices, condemned all violence. She said Palestinian civilians should not be punished for the violent actions of Hamas, and called on the United States to hold Israel accountable for its oppression of Palestine.

“I fear for the safety of my dear Palestinian and Israeli friends and for all people in the region, but sadly, what is happening is not surprising,” Bowden-Schaible said. “We haven’t stepped in to say a resounding no to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs speaks during a vigil at Beth El Temple in Portland on Wednesday to mourn the attacks in Israel. “This is terrorism,” she said, cautioning against experiencing any “moral confusion” with regard to Hamas’ assault on innocent civilians. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Bowden-Schaible had been preparing to head to the West Bank on Friday to help Palestinians attempting to harvest this year’s olive crops. She was to have served as an observer, helping to protect the harvest from “Israeli settler harassment.”


Isaacs said groups such as the Free Palestine demonstrators in Portland that blame Israel for the carnage are morally confused.


“This is terrorism,” she said, referring to Hamas. “There is no justification for terrorism, no excuses.”

The Free Palestine organizers did not get a city permit for the rally, but the two city police officers present did not interfere with the speeches or chanting. One officer said they were only there in case the rally sparked any violent opposition.

A few people driving by honked in support. A passing motorcyclist shouted “Nazis!” and revved his engine to try to drown out the chants. A man opened a window above a restaurant fronting the square and booed the group as they prayed for those who died in the violence.

Gary Ellmer, Portsmouth, N.H., was opposed to the demonstrators in the square. A “Free Palestine” demonstration at Monument Square drew people demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel and called for an end to the Israeli “apartheid” regime. Michele McDonald/Staff Editor

Gary Ellmer, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, stumbled upon the rally as he and his wife were leaving an Old Port restaurant for a local concert. Incensed, the military veteran shouted at demonstrators: “Oh yeah, killing Israeli children, that’s how to get freedom!” He didn’t plan on stopping, he said, but he said he couldn’t help it. He called the demonstrators stupid and naive and said they could never understand the situation on the ground in Gaza and Israel right now unless they had served in a war zone.

Molly Curren Rowles is executive director of the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine. In a telephone interview before the vigil, Rowles said the vigil at Temple Beth El was intended to give members of the Jewish community a safe place to gather and to share their feelings.

“The events of the last four days have been unthinkable,” Rowles said. “Hamas’ depraved violence has been shocking and horrific. We are in deep shock as more of these atrocities come to light. We hope that by being together we can heal and find comfort,” she said.


The vigil was also live-streamed. Rowles said 375 people registered for the in-person vigil.

As for the demonstration in Monument Square, Rowles urged the public to learn as much as it can about the terrorist group Hamas and the atrocities they have committed.

A “Free Palestine” demonstration at Monument Square drew people demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel and called for an end to the Israeli “apartheid” regime. Michele McDonald/Staff Editor

“They have demonstrated a total disregard for the value of human life,” she said.

She said that Israel is a diverse country with countless ties to Americans and to Mainers, citing Wednesday’s turnout as proof of that connection.

“I’d like to remind the public that your Jewish friends and families need to hear from you. Let them know your heart is with Israel. It is never OK to condone violence,” Rowles said.

Anna Wrobel is a historian and poet who spoke at Wednesday’s vigil. She mentioned Edith Pagelson, a Holocaust survivor from Maine, who died Saturday – the day that Hamas attacked Israel.


Wrobel called on world leaders to not seek revenge and retribution, but to undertake repairing the damage Hamas caused.

“It would be wonderful if we could free the Palestinian people and the Israeli people from Hamas. The Palestinians need new leadership because Hamas is a death cult,” Wrobel said.

“Though we are many thousands of miles away, our support for Israel is vitally important right now. Together with all people of conscience and with the Jewish community worldwide, we stand together,” the Jewish Community Alliance said in a message posted on its website. More information about what Mainers can do to help Israel is available on the JCA’s website.


Members of Maine’s congressional delegation criticized the Monument Square demonstration, stressing that the murders of innocent civilians cannot be justified.

“This was an unprecedented and vicious attack that was directed at unarmed civilians. Terrorists went house to house, indiscriminately murdering everyone from babies to senior citizens in wheelchairs,” Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement. “They murdered hundreds of young people at a peace concert. They took hostages, including children. The entire world should condemn this attack and these horrific tactics.”


“I disagree completely with the false statement issued by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. They should be condemning Hamas, rather than excusing these appalling tactics,” Collins said.

The demonstration’s organizers issued statement Wednesday that called the killing of civilians, whether they be Israeli or Palestinian, “illegal and abhorrent.” But they said that Israel is using the civilian deaths to mitigate the murder of Palestinians and the destruction of Gaza.

David Klein and Zoe Babian Klein of North Yarmouth comfort one another during a song at a vigil at Beth El Temple in Portland on Wednesday to mourn the terror attacks in Israel. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“The idea that any organization or group of people would seize upon the tragedy taking place in Israel and the suffering of the Jewish community to present a false equivalency between the government of Israel and Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran would be almost laughable were it not so sickening given the atrocities committed against the people of Israel these past few days,” Rep. Jared Golden said in a statement.

Golden said there is no justification for the murder of women, children, the elderly, babies, and entire families in their homes by Hamas. He said Hamas is a violent military organization elected and supported by Palestinians living in Gaza.

“There is no equivalent evil in the comparably reserved but necessarily strong military response by Israel in defense of its nation and its people,” Golden said.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, in a statement issued Wednesday night, called Hamas “a murderous terrorist group funded by Iran, a proudly antisemitic theocracy.” Pingree said Hamas raped women and took Jews hostage during the attack calling their acts “barbaric beyond words.”


“We cannot turn our backs on the Israeli people. The United States has a responsibility to provide aid to Israel, the only Democracy in the Middle East,” Pingree said. “But that support must be predicated on preserving humanity and not on perpetuating greater cycles of violence.”

Pingree said the United States must ensure that both Israeli and Palestinian civilians are protected from Hamas, adding that many Palestinians are “political hostages of Hamas’ violent fanaticism.”

A spokesman for Sen. Angus King said the senator was traveling in rural Maine was unavailable to comment on Wednesday night’s gatherings in Portland.

The Associated Press reported that in the sealed-off Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas, Palestinian suffering mounted Wednesday as Israeli bombardment demolished neighborhoods and the only power plant ran out of fuel. The war, which has already claimed more than 2,200 lives, is only expected to escalate.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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