More than 1,700 people attended an interfaith service at Temple Israel of Boston Friday evening to hear messages of unity on the eve of the controversial “Boston Free Speech” rally.
“What unites us is always stronger than what divides us,” Attorney General Maura Healey told the crowd.
Healey was among the public officials and clergy to promote inclusion and reject bigotry during the hour-long gathering planned by the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.
She said the acts of hatred that were on display during the past week in the US were not only lawless but also “godless,” and criticized President Trump for his response to the violent demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., that attracted white supremacists. Trump blamed “both sides” for that violence.
“Anyone who struggles to denounce white supremacy or Nazism does not deserve to be president of the United States,” she said, drawing a standing ovation.
After the bloodshed in Charlottesville last weekend, local authorities fear Saturday’s free speech rally could draw white supremacists. More than 500 police officers will monitor the rally, and a counterprotest is expected to draw tens of thousands. The organizers for the free speech rally have maintained that the event is not a forum for hate groups.
Friday’s interfaith service also came days after the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized for the second time this summer.
Shayk Yasir Fahmy , a senior imam with the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center , said Bostonians need each other most at times like these.
“We need to be together,” he said after the service. “There’s a lot of pain. There’s a lot of hurt. And in the face of that pain and hurt we need togetherness, we need unity, we need community, we need love.”
Governor Charlie Baker encouraged those attending the service to go forth “as peacemakers.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh appealed for unity and neighborly compassion.
“Our neighbors have all the love we need to build a unity that is stronger than racism, stronger than anti-Semitism, stronger than hate,” he said.
Before the service, clergy talked about rejecting bigotry like the vandalism of the Holocaust memorial and the violence in Charlottesville.
“I just can’t imagine that this is happening in my lifetime, that Nazis would march openly,” said Norma Bretell, the pastor of the Bartlett Congregational Church UCC in Bartlett, N.H.
Kathleen Reed, senior pastor for University Lutheran Church in Harvard Square, welcomed Saturday’s anticipated counterdemonstration to the free speech rally, but said more needs to be done. Her congregation, she said, is overwhelmingly white and privileged.
“We have to, with our, congregation, really face what that means and do some work,” she said.
Marc Eames, an Episcopal priest at the Church of the Advent in Medfield, said the symbols of white nationalism on display in Charlottesville were troubling.
“The way that it’s come to the surface is really alarming and I think we all have to stand up against it and be very clear this sort of ideology has no place here,” he said.
Emily Garcia, an Episcopal deacon at the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, said the hate that was on display in recent days did not surprise her.
“This is common in America,” she said. “More common than it should be.”