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Vigil honoring Israeli lives lost works to bring healing, unity to Jewish community

Songs of prayer and healing rang through the air as members and allies of the Jewish community gathered in unity with one another during a vigil for the over one thousand victims of the attacks on Israeli towns Saturday. 

The “Kent State Uniting for Israel” gathering was held outside of Hillel and began Thursday afternoon. It consisted of students, parents, teachers and other community members sharing stories, poems and prayers and singing various Hebrew melodies from the Torah.

Over the weekend, the militant organization Hamas, a group that gained control of the Gaza Strip in 2006 in a Palestinian parliamentary election, carried out an attack on Israeli towns near the border of the Gaza Strip using thousands of missiles. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken compared Hamas to the militant group ISIS in a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday. 

The assault left over one thousand Israeli citizens dead and thousands more wounded, and Hamas also took hundreds of civilians hostage.  

“Hamas is a terrorist organization, and they are a group that has murdered innocent mothers, fathers, Holocaust survivors and babies,” said Emily Dubin, a junior psychology major and Jewish community member who attended the vigil at Hillel. “I want to know, ‘What part of that is justice?’ Taking the politics out of the situation, ‘How is killing an innocent life at all related to justice?’”

Peri Michl, a first-year graduate student pursuing a doctorate in learning services and Jewish community member, said she remembers opening Instagram for the first time Sunday night and seeing the attacks on Israel plastered everywhere. She said she couldn’t believe what she saw.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” she said. “Then, I kept seeing it over and over again and started realizing it was actually happening. I felt like a part of my soul was missing because a part of my soul is there with them. I feel helpless more than anything.”

Attendees at the “Kent State Uniting for Israel” gathering sign in and receive songbooks for the rally on October 12, 2023. (Cadie Pierce)

Since the attacks, Israel’s minister of defense, Yoav Gallant, has declared war against Hamas and has launched strikes against potential Hamas targets in Gaza, one of the two Palestinian territories. Israel has also cut off electricity, food, fuel and water to the area. 

Tensions existed between Israel and Palestine since before the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

In 1917, the British government issued a public statement titled the Balfour Declaration, which promised a “national home for the Jewish people” within Palestinian land. At the time of the declaration, Palestine was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic-run dynasty that lasted for over 600 years. 

Britain’s promise to Jewish citizens, as well as the Holocaust during World War II, initially led thousands of citizens within the Jewish community to migrate into Palestinian territory. This began to create conflict between the Palestinians and the Jewish people. 

An independent Palestinian Arab state and an independent Jewish state was created by the UN in 1947, with Jerusalem internationalized. 

Dubin attended the vigil along with dozens of other Jewish community members. She spoke on how important it was for her community to unite and do what they can to help and speak out for the citizens of Israel. 

“This is about getting rid of the Jewish people, and the same thing has happened many more times in history.” she said, “But we’re still here, and they’re not. At the end of this we’re still going to be here, and they’re not.”

Hillel, Chabad and the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, three Jewish organizations on campus, hosted the vigil to memorialize the lives lost during the attacks on Israel Saturday and bring hope to the Jewish community.

Rose Martyn, a senior psychology and anthropology major and co-president of Hillel’s Student Board, tells the story of her birthright trip to the attendees of the “Uniting for Israel” rally on October 12, 2023. (Cadie Pierce)

“A lot of times when you’re a Jewish person, you don’t feel supported,” said Rose Martyn, co-president of Hillel and a senior psychology and anthropology major. “Especially right now, we wanted to be able to create a space where people can come and support Israel and be with a community that supports and cares for them.”

A few hours earlier Thursday, Kent State Students for a Democratic Society, Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students’ Association ran a “Protest for Palestine on the K” to support the Palestinian people and to raise awareness for the struggles Palestinians are facing in the aftermath of the Israeli government’s declaration of war. 

“It’s always about, ‘Well, Hamas is doing this,’ but what about the ordinary Palestinians who are on the ground right now?” SDS member Shreya Basu said. “They’re having their homes bombed, their schools bombed, their hospitals bombed. Right now, Gaza is completely without electricity and completely without running water, and that’s not really something that people really understand the impact of.” 

Michl said she avoided walking by that protest on Risman Plaza.

“When one of my friends said that there would be a pro-Palestine rally today – I couldn’t, I couldn’t!” Michl said. “I walked to my class in Henderson, and [my friend] said they were still on the K. I walked ten minutes around the back of the Student Center in the library to avoid them.” 

Martyn said she wants to educate people about the attacks on Israel and talk about the innocent lives lost, the hostages taken, the babies murdered and the women who were raped. 

“That’s what we need to be focusing on right now,” she said. “The political conflicts are a conversation that’s for another time. Right now, we need to join together and honor the lives lost.”

Michl said she has cried every time she has prayed or listened to music since hearing about the attacks, and continues to pray for every life lost and soul that has left this world.

“Unlike a lot of people here at this event, I don’t personally know anyone in Israel, but I don’t need to know them to mourn for them,” she said. “This isn’t politics. Violence isn’t politics. I hope people know that we are not here praying for Israel to win a war, we are praying for the violence of this nightmare to end.”

In an email response to KentWired, Michael Pollack, director of student life at Hillel, said the organization is providing resources to Jewish students by bringing therapists to campus, holding community gatherings and providing resources students can use for larger city gatherings. 

“Jewish students are organized, motivated and proudly expressing their Jewish identities on campus even in the face of this week’s horror,” he said. “The importance of being together in community during this hard time is vital.”

Attendees of the Kent State Uniting for Israel rally listen intently to the speakers on October 12, 2023. (Cadie Pierce)

He called the weekend’s attacks “the worst slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, and the deadliest attack in Israel since the Yom Kippur War (the 1973 Arab–Israeli war).” 

Dubin said she hopes the vigil brings awareness on campus to the events going on in Israel. She said the Jewish community stands for peace in both Israel and Palestine. 

“I want people to know that we stand for peace,” Dubin said. “We stand for peace for all innocent civilians including Jews and non-Jews everywhere. It’s so important to educate yourself and for people to know that this goes beyond politics. We are stronger than the hate and can overcome this together.” 

Molly Hoffer is a digital tech. Contact her at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Molly Hoffer, Campus Editor
Molly is a Campus Editor and a senior majoring in journalism and creative writing. She has served as a digital tech and a general assignment reporter in prior semesters. She is passionate about writing and enjoys covering stories about current events and things happening around the community. Contact her at [email protected]
Kennedy Gotham, TV2 News Director
Kennedy serves as the TV2 News Director. She is a senior journalism major with a minor in political science. Kennedy is passionate about covering stories where peoples voices who are not being heard and giving them an opportunity to share their experiences. Contact Kennedy at [email protected]
Cadie Pierce, Photographer
Cadie Pierce (she/they) is a Senior Integrative Studies major and Photojournalism minor and staff photographer for KentWired/Kent Stater. Cadie can be reached at [email protected].

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