Home News and Features Vermont Jews Gather to Mourn Victims on Both Sides of Mideast Conflict 

Vermont Jews Gather to Mourn Victims on Both Sides of Mideast Conflict 

Bench Ansfield holds a sign referring to the Holocaust and today's strife in Gaza and Israel as Joanna Colwell addresses the crowd during an expression of mourning for the deaths in the Middle East, held on the State House steps Friday evening, Oct. 20. Photo by John Lazenby.
Despite continuous rain, 120 members of Vermont’s Jewish community attended a public Mourner’s Kaddish for fallen Israelis and Palestinians on Friday, Oct. 20, at the Vermont Statehouse.

“We are gathered here today as Jews to mourn the mounting death toll of innocent Israelis and Palestinians over the last week,” said Joanna Colwell of Ripton, one of the organizers. “We are here in honor of the humanity of the dead.”

The Mourner’s Kaddish, usually recited for the passing of a loved one, was recited with other prayers in honor of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Over 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Oct. 7 attacks, according to Reuters, which also reported that the Gaza Health Ministry said at least 3,785 Palestinians have been killed and 12,493 wounded in Israeli air strikes since Oct. 7.

The event was hosted with resources “generously shared by IfNotNow, a movement of American Jews organizing our community to end U.S. support for Israel’s apartheid system, and to demand equality, justice, and a thriving future for all Palestinians and Israelis,” said Colwell.

“We are doing this on the Statehouse steps because we want our elected officials and the rest of our state to know that we are grieving. And we don’t want our grief to be weaponized,” said Colwell.

Signs on the steps of the State House Friday evening during the gathering to mourn victims in Gaza and Israel. Photo by John Lazenby.
“These events show how many Jews in Vermont need to have a space to mourn and grieve at the horrific scale of violence,” said Shaina Kasper, public relations person for the event. “We recognize that war crimes do not justify more war crimes, and collective punishment will not bring anyone safety.”

“Jewish moral tradition teaches that all human life is sacred, and yet the Israeli government, which claims the authority to represent all Jews, has not honored all life as sacred,” said Sophie Cassell, from Richmond, a volunteer for IfNotNow. 

Opinions on the Israel-Hamas issue are varied, especially depending on how close to home the conflict has landed.

“The last 75 years of displacement, extrajudicial killings and detention, land confiscations, and so many other injustices of the Nakba [the name given to the displacement of Palestinians by Jews since 1948] and the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are the root cause of the current escalation of violence,” said Jamie Spector, a speaker from Jewish Voice for Peace, which held a rally with 5,000 people in Washington, D.C., two days before the Montpelier gathering. “Not in our name.”

It was drizzling, and some attendants lit candles during the prayers and held them under their umbrellas. Bread and grape juice were shared as part of the usual Friday night Shabbat ritua. 

“I came today because I’m ready for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. And it felt important to be together with other Jews who wanted to say that out loud,” said Alexa Gabriel of Barre.

Wafic Faour from Vermonters for Justice in Palestine spoke at the gathering. Faour thanked the organizers for inviting him. “It’s about time we can come together and work together.”

“I appreciate Jewish Voice for Peace, and IfNotNow, among our Jewish community, that they are doing something about it,” said Faour. “Mainly, the United States is sending weapons every day, for genocide, which is against all human rights conventions … But you are part of it. Our death is your responsibility.”

Spector called on members of Congress not to “send one more taxpayer dollar to Israel to support the continued escalation of violence, war crimes, and repression.”

Faour recited “Enemy of the Sun” by Samih al-Qasim in Arabic and English. He described the poem as “a vivid description of Palestinian life.”

“You will see the occupation, the apartheid, and the broken dreams of the Palestinians to be independent, to be themselves,” said Faour. “… the only way is resistance to the subjugation of this apartheid, and fill us with hope.”

“I came here to stand up for what’s right, and to support the Palestinians who are under occupation and being bombed. And to call for our elected officials to call for a ceasefire, and not to send more money to Israel,” said Deorsha McDade of Worcester. Send “humanitarian aid instead.”

“History is happening now. So, we can define ourselves as not an activist-type person, but don’t watch as history floats by you. Get in there. Get in there. And be part of it,” said Julie Conason of Salisbury.

Organizers invited attendees to the next rally for a ceasefire at 4:30 p.m., Oct. 26, on Church Street in Burlington.

Suzanne Richmann, a member of the Vermont Jewish community, told The Bridge, “I attended the candlelight vigil for Palestine at UVM on Thursday as well as the candlelight vigil for Jews on the Statehouse lawn on Friday. Both events featured speakers from Palestinian as well as Jewish representatives. The talks, poetry, and prayers were offered in the pain and beauty of truth telling, understanding, and mutual mourning.”

The Bridge reached out to Beth Jacob Synagogue in Montpelier. The board of directors responded that “Beth Jacob Synagogue is a proudly diverse community of Jews, their partners, and family members,” which “extends to our views on Israel and Palestine,” and that “we encourage our members to speak for themselves and be politically active on these issues as they see fit.”