Dozens of Jews and Muslims met in Brookline Sunday afternoon to discuss the violence in Israel and Gaza — peacefully —and to mourn lives lost on both sides of the conflict nearly a month after Hamas launched an attack against Israel, which in turn declared war on the organization.
Attendees gathered at the Brookline Public Library’s Coolidge Corner Branch as two other rallies — one in Brookline supporting Israel, another in Braintree supporting Palestinians in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas — drew hundreds of protesters.
Neighborhood residents spoke in small groups about the importance of preserving civilian life.
Some stood at a table by the window, reciting prayers of mourning in Arabic and Hebrew and lighting tea candles. Others sat around long tables, writing cards to be sent to civilians. They dropped their cards into a pair of cardboard boxes with handwritten labels: “Cards you want to go to Palestinians” and “Cards you want to go to Israelis.”
Brookline resident Jen Wofford, who organized the event, emphasized that the afternoon was intended to be “a place of healing” for neighbors, regardless of their politics, and was intended to foster conversations between those who may disagree.
“People needed a place to come together to do something. People were expressing a sense of helplessness and isolation,” said Wofford, who is Jewish, in an interview before the gathering. “We all want the same outcome: which is people to be able to live side-by-side, [to] peacefully coexist.”
Filza Jalali sat at a low table writing a letter to those in Gaza. “I wish for peace, love and wellbeing,” she wrote in swooping cursive letters with a blue crayon.
Jalali, who is Muslim, said she is not Palestinian or Israeli but felt for civilian victims on both sides.
The 37-year-old grew up in India, where she said she never encountered a Jew. She said it is easy to be fearful of others without meeting them face to face, which makes events like Sunday’s so valuable.
“You can just start by little by little,” Jalali said. “Our children will learn from us.”
Massachusetts Representative Tommy Vitolo, whose district includes Brookline and was in attendance, noted that the town is heavily Jewish and residents have been looking for ways to support each other, though they “only have so much emotional energy left in the tanks.”
Events like the unity gathering, he said, can help “take some of the danger out of the conversation.”
Earlier in the day and just a few blocks away, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators gathered around noon, filling a cordoned-off section of Babcock Street at its intersection with Harvard Street.
Some draped Israeli flags around their shoulders or pinned miniature flag poles into their hair; others wore blue and white, the colors of the flag.
Blue and white balloons hung from street lights. Volunteers sold Israeli flags, raffle tickets, baked goods, and cotton candy, with proceeds donated to the Russian Jewish Community Foundation’s Israel Emergency Fund.
Lana Rifkin, an organizer and a foundation board member, said the rally was designed to publicly unite the local Jewish community in the face of rising antisemitism.
“One of the major, major points is for our kids to be proud,” said Rifkin, who lives in Brookline. “People are scared. People are afraid to put mezuzahs on their doors. ... We cannot hide.”
Just after 12:30 p.m., the crowd began marching around Coolidge Corner, carrying banners and blue pompoms and waving Israeli flags.
Protesters chanted “Bring them home” and carried fliers about civilians kidnapped by Hamas — the same as those plastered throughout town.
A few passersby honked and gave thumbs-up. At least one shouted condemnations of Israel, repeating accusations of genocide in Gaza as demonstrators walked by, mostly without engaging.
About an hour later, nearly 150 people gathered in support of Gazans outside Braintree Town Hall.
Reem Alzaeem, 38, paced up and down on Washington Street. Across the road, protesters — wearing red, black, green, and white, the colors of the Palestinian flag — followed her in a series of chants, drawing honks from passing cars.
“Long live the intifada,” she called, and the crowd repeated. “One, two, three, four, Gaza broke the prison door. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state.”
Alzaeem, who is Syrian, organized the pro-Palestinian rally to show solidarity with the people of Gaza and to call upon the United States to stop sending all aid to Israel, she said.
“I cannot sit back and watch injustice happening. I have to do something,” she said in an interview with the Globe. “No matter what, wherever we are on Earth, we will stand and support our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”
Omar Hasan, 19, a Palestinian-American who grew up in Braintree and now studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, wore a necklace with the colors of the Palestinian flag.
Last month, two distant cousins were killed by Israeli forces, Hasan said in an interview. He came to the rally to support everyone living in the Palestinian territories, he said.
“I think everyone in Palestine is family,” Hasan said.
Teenage friends Rama Adam, 13, Jenna Hammouda, 17, and Mariam Zaidan, 15, all of Braintree, stood together wearing black and white keffiyehs, traditional scarves, around their necks and holding Palestinian flags.
“We want to show our support and our love because I feel like there’s nothing else that we really can do besides posting it on social media,” Zaidan said. “This is one of the most effective ways to do it, and it does make a difference and an impact.”