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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Spokespersons are photographed at the community candlelit gathering on Sunday, Oct. 8 to express solidarity in response to recent events in Israel. 

Student group hosts candlelight vigil in solidarity with Israel after attacks

At least 1,200 Israelis and 1,100 people in Gaza have been pronounced dead as conflict escalates following Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel early Saturday morning.

This article is a part of The Daily Cardinal's ongoing coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Our student reporters are dedicated to covering the events and responses happening across the University of Wisconsin-Madison community. The content in this story does not necessarily reflect the editorial position of the Cardinal. 

Hundreds of people gathered outside Memorial Library late Sunday evening to express solidarity with the people of Israel after Hamas launched surprise terrorist attacks Saturday.

The candlelight vigil, organized by student group Badgers Against Hate, brought together University of Wisconsin-Madison students and community members shaken by the developing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas, a militant organization that has been categorized a terrorist group by both the European Union and the United States, launched thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel and invaded by land, sea and air in an act of terrorism, according to NPR

At least 1,200 Israelis have been pronounced dead, thousands more were injured and an estimated 150 were taken hostage by Hamas as of Oct. 11, according to CNN. At least 1,100 people in Gaza have died since Saturday as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in the enclave, and the conflict is expected to escalate further. 

“Today we come together as one people to mourn and grieve for our dead,” said Andrea Steinberger, senior rabbi at UW Hillel Foundation.

Vigil organizers applauded the turnout as a sign of the Israeli and Jewish community’s strong presence at UW-Madison. 

“Jews really know how to support each other,” said Jessica Medwin, a UW-Madison student and one of the event organizers.

Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin condemned “the vicious terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians last weekend,” in an email to the campus community Wednesday.

“Difficult times can fray our connections and exacerbate our differences. Let us focus on the values that we share,” Mnookin said. “I call on our campus community to care for and support one another, to express your views peacefully and respectfully, and to value our common humanity as we navigate this extremely difficult time, together.”

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Medwin and Jacob Bigelman, also a student and event organizer, began the vigil with opening remarks and asked attendees to join in a moment of silence. 

“We come here before you tonight not to promote an agenda nor to educate others but solely to remember those who have been taken from us,” Medwin said.

Justin Shemian, also an organizer and student, joined Steinberger to lead the group in a traditional Jewish prayer for peace, Oseh Shalom, and a prayer for the Israel Defense Forces. 

Shemian then introduced Yuval Lerman, president of UW-Madison Badger Alliance for Israel and an Israeli-American. 

Lerman said he would “never forget how he felt” when he looked at the news Saturday morning. 

He spoke of a video in which assailants kidnapped and took hostage an elderly Israeli woman. The woman’s family confirmed her identity to Reuters on Monday.

“My grandma lives alone in Israel,” Lerman added. 

Speakers and attendees held hands and embraced as they cried and prayed for their loved ones and the people and land of Israel. 

“The ceremony was really sad and emotional but also really lovely and paid homage to those who have been murdered, injured, kidnapped or held hostage by Hamas,” said Lola Belchinsky, a student.

Medwin, Bigelman and Shemain thanked the Jewish community on campus and said they couldn’t have organized the vigil without the support of Jewish organizations such as Hillel, Chabad and Jewish Fraternity & Sorority Life.

Bigelman said he found it difficult to continue life as normal on Sunday. While sitting down to study, he said he was struck with an overwhelming need to take action.

That feeling inspired his involvement in the gathering, something Bigelman said provided an outlet for himself and others. 

“I was so blind to how big and how strong the Jewish community is on campus and this was such a strong example of people coming together in times of difficulty,” Bigelman said. “It gave me hope and optimism.” 

Organizers said they feared retaliation for this event, and multiple speakers thanked the police for being there to protect them and the community.

“There will of course be a time for civic engagement, but it was not tonight,” Shemian said.

Badgers Against Hate organizers said they hoped to continue to provide a safe space for students and advocate for minority issues through educational events. 

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