By Jay Roberson and Jake Tiger
THE eruption of the latest Israel-Hamas war has killed thousands, injured even more and dampened the spirits of millions across the globe, as tight-knit Jewish and Muslim communities like Lawrenceville’s band together in solidarity during what a local rabbi called a “traumatic” time.
“It’s been horrifying,” said Rabbi Benjamin Adler of Adath Israel Congregation, one of Lawrenceville’s synagogues. “The attacks against Israel by Hamas are brutal … traumatic for our community, and so we’re trying to go on and do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in Israel.”
Other university campuses have been the sites of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, criticizing Israel’s airstrikes against Gaza, an area controlled by Hamas, which is a Palestinian organization that the U.S. State Department declared a terrorist group in 1997.
The conflict began on Oct. 7 when over a thousand Hamas militants suddenly attacked Israel through land, air and sea, resulting in the deaths of over 1,400 people, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Since then, Israel counterattacked by cutting off Gaza’s food, water and electricity, and launching airstrikes on the territory.
The war has killed over 6,000 and wounded close to 20,000, with at least 1,400 casualties in Israel and 5,087 in Gaza, according to Oct. 23 data from the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Ethan Handelman, a junior elementary education major and Jewish student, said he had multiple friends in Israel when the latest war began, including a childhood friend serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
“Not to sound morbid or anything … there’s a possibility my childhood friend doesn’t make it,” Handelman said. “I’ve kept in contact with him every few days to see how he’s doing, how his family is doing. He’s been in and out of bomb shelters, so it’s kind of crazy to think about that, honestly.”
Handelman is the vice president for Rider’s branch of Hillel, a Jewish campus organization serving 850 institutions across 16 different countries, according to the group’s website.
Handelman spoke at Rider’s vigil on Oct. 18 for all lives lost in the war, and said Hillel hopes to organize events in the near future, offering support and resources to the entirety of Rider’s community, not just its Jewish students.
“It’s affected me differently than it’s affected my other family members,” said Handelman. “They’ve been nervous and stressed … but I need to raise awareness.”
Helena Rashid, president of Rider’s Muslim Students Association, also spoke at the vigil.
In an interview with The Rider News, Rashid emphasized that the Israel-Hamas tensions have been an issue for a long time, and she encouraged the public to be more conscious of the lives lost and people affected on both sides of the conflict.
“The fact that’s not being talked about enough is Palestine and how they’re also suffering and how it’s not their fault,” said Rashid. “People are scared to speak up about it.”
On Oct. 25, the Rider Counseling Center will host an event for students in Zoerner House at 3 p.m., calling the gathering “a safe space for Arab and Muslim students who have been directly or indirectly impacted.”
Additionally, the Muslim Students Association will host a “Pray for Palestine” event on Nov. 2, with exact details to be determined, Rashid said.
Adler said the initial attacks on Oct. 7 occurred during Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest that takes place from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.
Adath Israel Congregation, which is just across the street from Rider’s south entrance, had extra services planned for the weekend that ultimately continued out of respect for the community and its traditions, Adler said.
“I think it was very challenging for us to be joyous … at a time when there were such horrific attacks,” said Adler. “I spoke to my community and said, this is our obligation. … There’s some times when we’re just commanded to be joyous. We may not feel it, but in some ways, it helps us to cope by understanding that we have certain obligations as part of our tradition. … That’s how we find strength amongst the Jewish people, through community.”
Adath Israel Congregation also held a solidarity event Oct. 11 at the synagogue, which was organized by the Jewish Federation and had an attendance of over 500, Adler said. Parking lots at Rider were used as overflow lots, and the Lawrence Township Police Department was present at the synagogue’s entrance to control traffic and provide security.
A vigil in remembrance
At Rider, students, staff and faculty gathered at the Bart Luedeke Center’s Cavalla Room on Oct. 18 to commemorate the victims lost in the Israel-Gaza war.
As Rider community members have been impacted by the conflict in different ways, the university hosted a vigil in an attempt to give hope and reassurance.
Handelman started off the night with a speech: “I, being a Jewish student, have been personally affected by the attacks and fighting like many students across various religions that are here today.”
Several religious clubs attended and spoke at the vigil, including the Muslim Student Association represented by Rashid, InterVarsity and the Catholic Campus Ministry.
Nadia Ansary, professor of psychology and adviser to the Muslim Students Association, was fighting back tears as she spoke about the mothers and fathers going through the grief of losing their children; a reality many are facing right now.
Adler also contributed to the vigil, representing the local congregation and acting as a resource for the community, he said.
Marissa Ross, a junior exercise science major, has connections in Israel and felt that the vigil offered her comfort during these hard times.
“I have family and friends who live [in Israel], and I have friends and family who are in the IDF. One of my best friends … is serving right now,” said Ross. “It’s been really hard recently, so it’s really nice to be somewhere where there’s a lot of support.”
Faculty fellow from the Julius and Dorothy Koppelman Holocaust/Genocide Resource Center of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Howard Joffe, spoke about how this conflict is impacting those who are Jewish because of high casualty rates.
Attendees of the vigil lit candles and participated in a moment of silence in order to commemorate the lives lost.
Graduate student Emily Wesoky has lived in Israel for some parts of her life so the recent events have been hitting close to home for her.
Wesoky said, “I’m a citizen of Israel and I’ve lived there for periods of time…so I wear that country on my chest for the whole country. I have a lot of friends there that are serving and a lot of friends that are affected by it.”
Though many students are navigating a stressful time, the vigil brought a moment of peace and solidarity among all in attendance.
Handelman said, “In unfortunate times, it’s important that we each support one another regardless of group. We are all going through it right now; turn the anger into positive energy and willingness to be there for one another. There’s people who don’t want all of us to come together. What I say to them is: watch us.”
The Rider News is committed to fair coverage of all sides of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, and encourages those in the university community to share how they have been impacted by the war.
The Rider News can be contacted via email at email@example.com.