Amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, Jewish leaders at UW Hillel are offering support for University of Wisconsin-Madison students.
Following terrorist attacks on Oct. 7, Israel declared war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has been categorized as a terrorist group by both the European Union and the United States. UW-Madison Jewish students have since held various events to show their support towards Israel.
Jewish students on campus expressed the immense emotions they have been feeling throughout this time and how the Jewish leaders and communities on campus have been a beneficial outlet to receive support.
Hadley Giesser, a freshman at UW-Madison, explained her struggles and how the Hillel has been a source of support and community in times of need.
“It's isolating and it’s a difficult time to be Jewish on campus, and I think if you're not Jewish you don’t really understand that,” Giesser said. “It’s just hard, and it’s really valuable to have Hillel for its support.”
While facing struggles throughout this time, UW-Madison freshman Rachel Shela noted the variety of support options offered by Hillel, spanning from UHS mental health appointments, communication between leaders and students and more.
Shela said events such as the conversation event with David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari on Tuesday are also especially beneficial as they allow students to come together.
“It’s easy to feel isolated or alone,” Shela said. “Events like these just help bring the people that are interested in this together, which I found to be really important.”
Sophie Shapiro, the student life associate at Hillel, expressed how students are processing emotions differently during this time and often need different means of support, and that it can be difficult to navigate.
She noted that the support offered by Hillel varies between students. Hillel’s main approach is to support students through whatever will benefit them the most.
“Obviously it's very difficult to navigate because everyone has such different statuses in terms of where they’re at emotionally, where they're at in wanting to take action,” Shapiro said. “So I think it’s meeting each student where they are. Each student goes through their own line of those emotions.”
Zoe Levine, the senior program director at Hillel, also expressed the importance of offering a variety of support options for students to choose from in an effort to accommodate all students.
Levine noted the importance of educational opportunities, similar to the event that took place last night, that allow students to gain a better understanding of the events occurring and how to grapple with them.
“It’s really meeting students where they’re at and providing a breadth of different options of how to digest and really take in everything,” Levine said. “It’s supporting students that are planning vigils or fundraisers for Israel … or if it’s educational opportunities like we have here tonight or more in a small group setting with students where it’s really like, ‘Okay how do we learn about what’s happening in the context of everything.’”
Shapiro also stressed the importance of educational events as a way of supporting students. She explained how educational opportunities allow students to gain a better understanding of how students can engage in conversations regarding the Israel-Hamas war and offer varying perspectives.
“There are people that are looking for a distraction, there are people that are looking for action and there are people that are looking for education and so many things in between,” Shapiro said. “I think this provides a perspective of how do you be in conversation around this topic, how do you actively participate in your community and with other people.”
Andrea Steinberger, senior rabbi at Hillel, expressed how she continues to support students through conversations about their feelings as well as offering opportunities to take a break from the stress they may be experiencing.
“I have been celebrating Shabbat with students, which is a respite,” Steinberger said. “It’s a time to take a break and to rest and to let go of some of their worries. I also have several activities every week of baking and cooking that I do with students which is a more informal way to check in with each other.”
Steinberger also said how she wants to be someone that students can depend on to guide them throughout their college years and support them during other struggles that they may experience during this time.
Giesser expressed her appreciation for the Jewish leaders within Hillel and recognized how they are experiencing struggles while maintaining a supportive relationship with students.
“Just maintaining normalcy and remaining a community space for students,” Giesser said. “You have to imagine that the leaders here are among some of the people suffering the most or are more connected to Israel than probably most of the student body. So for them to keep the environment that they've always maintained is really important and valuable.”
Shapiro said Hillel has received a large amount of positive feedback from students and parents, thanking them for the work and support they have provided. She also mentioned that students approach leaders and provide suggestions for future endeavors.
Levine also elaborated on how Hillel takes criticism into consideration as they continue to work to do the best they can for students.
“It is ongoing feedback and it's not only net positive,” Levine said. “But all the feedback we get, if it’s criticism or an ask like ‘Hey, can you actually talk through this?’ just different things like that is really important.”
“For us, it’s a win when students come to us and provide that feedback, and it helps us know what we can do and will work better,” Levine added.
Anika Feinsilver, a UW-Madison freshman, explained her overall appreciation for the support and opportunities that Hillel has offered her throughout this time.
“It is about learning, it's about furthering our intellect and our hearts and opening it all beyond just having physical space or having community through people,” Feinsilver said.
Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.