More than 150 students gathered at the Deering Library steps on Monday to mourn the victims of Hamas attacks in Israel over the weekend.
A number of students gave speeches about how the attacks have affected them. Attendees also sang songs and recited Jewish prayers including the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer used to honor the dead.
“There’s a lot of built-up emotion,” said Medill third-year Daniel Gross, an Israeli dual citizen. “This weekend was a major Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah. We call it ‘the holiday of our joy’ and at the end of it, I had to check my phone to make sure my family was still alive.”
Gross has several family members living in southern Israel, including a great-aunt who lives less than 10 miles away from the Gaza border.
On Saturday, Hamas gunmen crossed from Gaza into southern Israel where they began killing and kidnapping civilians, many of whom were children, in more than 20 locations near the Gaza border. Though Israelis make up the majority of casualties, citizens from more than a dozen other countries are also among the dead or missing. It’s estimated that at least 1000 people were killed in these attacks and 150 were taken hostage.
Gross said that the attacks left him feeling dehumanized: “What it’s saying is that Jewish lives don’t matter."
According to the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, online threats towards the Jewish community spiked significantly following the attacks. Fearing further extremist violence, synagogues across the United States ramped up security this weekend.
“Our community is hurting, here and around the world,” said Director of Northwestern Hillel Michael Simon. “Students feel the need to be seen.”
The Israeli response to Saturday’s attack has been swift. Later that day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas and implored Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza. Israel has since tightened its blockade and launched a series of ongoing airstrikes in the territory. According to Gaza health officials, 687 Palestinians have been killed and 3,000 have been wounded as of Monday. The United Nations estimates that 140,000 Palestinians in Gaza have already been displaced by the war.
Weinberg fourth-year Ethan Less was part of a group of Jewish students who helped organize Monday’s vigil. For Less, who used to live in Israel, singing out loud helped him process feelings of powerlessness in the face of tragedy.
“It felt like a big hug,” he said.
After the scheduled programming was over, remaining attendees made a large circle at the foot of the steps and put their arms around one another. Spontaneous singing in Hebrew resonated, punctuated by moments of silence in between songs.
“The fact that people stayed after it was over to sing was really powerful,” Less said.
Michael Simon led a rendition of “Salaam,” an Israeli folk song with lyrics in both Hebrew and Arabic. “Salaam” is often sung during times of conflict in Israel, its main refrain being, “Peace will come upon us, yet”.
In addition to drawing Jewish people of varying levels of observance, the vigil also drew a substantial number of non-Jews.
“I definitely am touched by the non-Jewish students who came. I think that was one of the goals,” Less said. “We have a big Jewish community on campus. Everyone has a Jewish friend, so it’s nice to see that people showed up to recognize that their friends are hurting.”
As the vigil came to a close, a Jewish student who asked to remain anonymous spoke about the importance of commemorating those killed by Hamas and expressed sadness about the fighting to come.
“I hope people learn there is no winner in war,” he said.
Thumbnail photo by Gideon Pardo / North by Northwestern