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Hundreds gather in Wellesley to hear speakers rally in support of Jews in France

Attendees at an event at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Wednesday after attacks in France last week.
Attendees at an event at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Wednesday after attacks in France last week. John Blanding/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

WELLESLEY — More than 450 people crowded into the soaring-ceilinged Temple Beth Elohim on Wednesday evening to deliver what local Jewish leaders described as an unequivocal message of solidarity with Jews worldwide in these uneasy days following the terrorist attacks on Jews and others in Paris by Islamist extremists.

In pledging support for French Jews, a half-dozen leaders spoke in solemn and sometimes angry tones, while high above the congregation, on two large suspended screens, appeared a continuous loop of pictures of the 17 people slain in the recent terror attacks, with captions such as “Je suis Jean Cabut,” “Je suis Yoav Cohen,” and others, naming each of the dead.

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“Defense of liberty is a worldwide responsibility and the denial of liberty anywhere affects people all over the world,” said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. “It affects our people, the Jewish people, in a profound way.

“How many times must we gather like this to mourn Jews killed by the ultimate in human insanity?” he asked.

“One of the lessons of World War II is that we must not be bullied into silence,” Shrage added. “We have to hold on to our liberty with both hands, with all our might.”

Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said, “We stand united against this growing tide of anti-Semitism. The Jews of Boston stand with the French Jewish community. Our message is that they do not now and never will stand alone.”

Another speaker, Robert Leikind, director of the Boston office of the American Jewish Committee, pointed to the support in Boston for France and for Jews.

“Boston is a place of ideas, a place of people who are animated and passionate and who want desperately to see France succeed,” he said. “People in this community know that the well-being of Jews in France has everything to do with the well-being of Jews here and around the world.”

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The 90-minute service featured readings of ancient texts, prayers, song, and a poem written in the aftermath of the terror attacks.

Among those who attended was a scattering of school-age children.

Fabien Feischi, the general consul of France in Boston, told the gathering that the French government “knows we have to take immediate action, with special attention to security for Jewish temples and schools.”

On Tuesday, the four Jews who were shot to death on Jan. 9 in one of the terrorist attacks in Paris were buried in Jerusalem.

They had been taken hostage in a kosher market by a gunman on a third day of terrorism that had begun on Jan. 7, when 12 people were killed during an attack on the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The attacks have been attributed to Islamic extremists.

“I felt a strong need to come,” said Ellen Kagan, who drove to Wellesley from her home in Mashpee. “The pain is almost overwhelming. Everyone here understands the grief. We’re on the same wave length. It’s very comforting to be here with other people.”

Stephanie Cohen of Cambridge said she had a special reason for attending: her father is a French Jew.

“My father told me he marched for freedom with a million people in Paris on Sunday,” she said. “He said that the crowd was very diverse and that energized him. I felt that if ever I was to be part of an event, this should be it. The sentiment is so strong because of the my familial ties.”

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More than 450 people attended the event.
More than 450 people attended the event. John Blanding/Globe staff

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at sean.murphy@globe.com.