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People of many faiths unite for an end to the war between Israel and Hamas

On a cold, dark night along Biden Street in Scranton, people of different faiths prayed together.

Over 5,000 miles away from the Middle East, the group of around 30 people held candles and called for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas that began on Oct. 7.

“The reason for this pray-in is the absolute urgency of the crisis in the Holy Land, and the pivotal role of the U.S. government in either supporting or opposing the ongoing bombardment of Gaza," said Will Cohen, a professor at the University of Scranton and cofounder of Christians for the Common Good.

The group, rooted in Catholic social teachings, arranged Wednesday night’s pray-in.

"As Americans, we're here along Biden Street, to ask and pray that he [President Biden] do more," said Cohen. "That the U.S. government do everything possible, as quickly as possible, to press for a ceasefire.”

Cohen, who was raised in a secular Jewish household, was joined by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, Jews and Muslims at the pray-in.

"Even, and especially in times of such horrific violence, we must remember that two peoples and three faiths belong to the Holy Land," said Julie Schumacher Cohen, who leads the community relations office at the University of Scranton and is an advisory council member for the DC-based Churches for Middle East Peace.

The night opened with aPrayer for Peace in Israel and Palestine by Rose Marie Berger.

“Peace is a gift shared at meals of memory, Christians, Muslims and Jews," read Chris Haw, Ph.D., a University of Scranton professor. "Let us burn incense, not children. Let us break bread, not bodies. Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries.”

Farouk Abedrabbo is a member of the Islamic Center of Scranton. He grew up in Jerusalem.

"We all we need to stay together. We need to tell our government and the whole world we ... want peace. Without this, no solution," he said. "Don't sit still, keep going. Because everybody needs your help."

Before attending the pray-in, Adam Shprintzen, an associate professor at Marywood University, lit candles with his family for the seventh night of Hanukkah. He reflected on the Jewish charge to bring more light into the world.

"It's my sincere hope for more light for all the people in the region, for those living in fear of their lives in Gaza, for those living in fear of their safety in the West Bank, and for those in Israel, and for leadership and those in positions of power and authority in the region and in the United States to bend towards light, towards the ceasefire, and the necessary work towards an enduring peace," he said.

Shprintzen also shared a prayer.

Jewish Blessing

Psalms were read and songs were sung. About a half hour into the pray-in, the group held a moment of silence for those whose lives have been lost since the war began in October.

Psalm 9:9-10 and Psalm 46:1-3

Melinda Krokus shared support from Penn State Scranton Chancellor Marwan Wafa, Ph.D. She, along with Iman Mohrasvid Umar, offered prayers from the Quran.

"So remember me, I will remember you and be grateful to me and do not deny me," said Umar. "All you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer."

Prayer from the Quran

The night wrapped up with a song: "Amid a World of Pain and War."

"We've all struggled to know how best we can be with one another in our differences, in our shared desire for an end to the bloodshed, and for a just peace," said Cohen. "I'm really grateful that people have come out.”

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org