About 1,000 people gathered Monday night on McKeldin Mall against a backdrop of Israeli flags and the soft light of candles.
Jewish student groups at the University of Maryland hosted a vigil amid the recent surge in violence in Israel and Palestine.
“This hits home for a lot of people on the UMD campus,” said junior public health science major Yonina Semer, who attended the event. “It’s our siblings. It’s our cousins. It’s our loved ones.”
Multiple news outlets reported Wednesday that more than 1,200 people in Israel and 1,100 people in Gaza have been killed since Saturday.
Hamas militants launched an attack from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns during a Jewish holiday on Saturday, killing hundreds, the Associated Press reported. The Israeli government launched airstrikes on Gaza on Sunday before declaring war against Hamas, the Associated Press reported.
As students processed these tumultuous events, some, like senior marketing and management major Leah Bregman, said the vigil provided comfort.
Bregman, the president of the Jewish Student Union, said organizers hoped the vigil would create community among students.
“It’s hard to know what to do or how to feel,” Bregman said. “The most important thing to me right now is that I do have a community here on campus and that we’re supporting each other and we are becoming stronger because of this.”
University President Darryll Pines offered support to the Jewish community at this university in a speech during the vigil.
“We are all here tonight to come together to condemn the attack and to honor those friends, loved ones, family members and distant relatives who have lost their lives,” Pines said. “As a proudly diverse and international community of students, scholars and staff and faculty, we recognize that the impact of war affects us here, right at home in the state of Maryland.”
Patty Perillo, this university’s student affairs vice president, and University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell also attended the vigil.
At Monday’s vigil, members of Jewish student groups Ruach, Kedma and Neshama recited the names and ages of some who died in the past few days. The crowd listened in silence.
Many students also swayed and leaned on each other as they sang Hebrew songs.
“We are gathered here, almost 1,000-strong, in solidarity, prayer, reflection, strength, allyship and song,” said Rabbi Ari Israel, Maryland Hillel’s executive director.
One attendee, Eytan Pomper, said his cousin was kidnapped at the Tribe of Nova music festival in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip on Saturday — where dozens of Hamas militants killed at least 260 Israelis, the Associated Press reported.
Pomper, a junior kinesiology major, added that he has spent holidays with his cousin and has visited Israel multiple times.
Public policy graduate student Noor Tofailli said in an interview Tuesday that this university’s Arab student community is also grieving after this weekend’s events.
“We’re going through pain. All of us are going through pain and I think it’s now that we need to be there for one another,” said Tofailli, the graduate representative of the university’s Organization for Arab Students. “We want to support the Jewish community in their pain, but we also want to feel supported in our pain.”
This weekend’s violence is part of a surge of violence in the region across the last year, including Israeli raids around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound area — located in a region of holy sites for the Abrahamic religions — last week.
On Monday, Israel announced a “total” blockade of the Gaza Strip, cutting electricity and blocking food and fuel from reaching the region’s 2-million-person population, Al Jazeera reported. Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Tuesday that this “full siege” is prohibited by international law and urged all sides to “defuse the explosive powder keg situation.”
This university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement to The Diamondback that it stands with Palestinian students at this university who have been fearful for “people in Gaza and the whole of Palestine.”
“This is not some remote occurrence that is irrelevant to students here at UMD,” the statement read. “There are Gaza natives on this campus who can’t reach their parents and siblings.”
Several students at the vigil Monday also emphasized personal connections, remarking that they joined the gathering in honor of loved ones or past experiences in Israel.
The university’s student body president Alexandra DeBus said in a speech Monday that she joined the vigil with a heavy heart.
“The past few days have been a time of inexplicable, inexplicable loss. Your pain is not insignificant. Your emotions, grief and frustration are valid,” DeBus, a senior biochemistry major, told the crowd. “I offer from the bottom of my heart my deepest condolences for those innocent civilians who have tragically lost their lives.”
Danielle Hodes, a junior journalism major, said she is especially thinking of her mother’s siblings who live in Israel.
“It’s really hard to think about anything else,” Hodes said. “It’s hard to be a student. It’s hard to do homework. It’s hard to go about your everyday life. Especially here, I feel so far removed and helpless.”
Another attendee, freshman information science major Ella Elimelech, spent summers in Israel after coming to the United States from Israel as a child. Many of her family members and friends live in Israel, she said.
“Any notification I get on my phone, my heart kind of skips a beat because you never know what could be going on,” Elimelech said. “It’s just obviously still very hard and we’re all mourning and grieving but to have that community to support each other has been helping.”
News editors Marwa Barakat, Shifra Dayak, Marijke Friedman and Akshaj Gaur contributed to this story.