On Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m., University of Connecticut students gathered on the Student Union Lawn to express solidarity with the victims of recent unprecedented attacks on Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States government.
Hamas administers a sliver of territory on the Mediterranean Coast known as the Gaza Strip, which has become a center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On Saturday, Oct. 7, militants crossed into southern Israel from Gaza, killing more than 1,000 people and abducting an estimated 150 more, according to statistics from the New York Times.
The gathering in support of Israel was organized by a variety of Jewish faith-based organizations on campus, including Chabad at UConn, Huskies for Israel, the UConn Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life and UConn Hillel. It also featured speeches from leaders in the Jewish community on campus and UConn Provost Anne D’Alleva.
Students lit candles in the shape of the Star of David and the Hebrew letters for the word chai (sometimes spelled hai), meaning “life” or “living,” draping Israeli flags across their bodies or holding them aloft in the crowd.
Avinoam Patt, the academic director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, which directs the Hebrew and Judaic Studies (HEJS) section of the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages, spoke to students and provided context as to the harrowing extent of the recent attacks.
“On the Jewish Holiday of Simchat Torah, Hamas launched a full-scale attack and invasion of Israel,” Patt said. “The scenes from Israel are terrifying and devastating.”
The attacks, which came a day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, were described by Patt as among the “most traumatic days in the country’s 75 year history.”
“What they have seen and found are things we would once label beyond belief,” Patt said of friends and spiritual brothers and sisters in Israel. “Yet now they are too real.”
The most lethal day of violence against the Jewish population since the Holocaust, Patt compared the events of Hamas’ surprise attack to a “pogrom,” historical riots and massacres of the 19th- and 20th- century which particularly targeted Jews.
Despite the horrific scenes out of Israel, speakers emphasized the resilience and strength of the nation and its population. Students were guided in Psalm 20 of Hebrew scripture and sang songs and hymns in solidarity with Israelis overseas.
This spirit of hope and strength was present as well in the words of Provost D’Alleva, who spoke in her capacity as a representative of the university and its mission.
“I feel such tremendous hope for the future and the wonderful scholars who have dedicated their lives to peaceful resolutions,” she said, addressing the assembly of over a hundred students.
“There is an open door,” she pledged to students in distress in need of resources from UConn.
, “Walk through it, and we will embrace you.”
Following the Provost’s remarks, two speakers from Israel itself were called up to give their own remarks, including Shirly Afrimi, UConn Hillel’s Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow.
The speakers candidly discussed their experiences of watching the attacks in real time through friends and family, unsure about whether they would be safe. Some were in foreign countries and unable to return to Israel. Others were drafted as combat medics or into artillery brigades.
“It is important to say loud and clear: these are war crimes. This is terrorism. These are our family and friends [under attack],” Afrimi declared.
, “We, the UConn community must stand together. This is not the time to be silent.”
A day earlier, on Monday, Oct. 9, President Radenka Maric gave a statement unequivocally condemning terroristic violence and its toll on “civilians and particularly women and children.”
“UConn must stand as a beacon of unity, celebrating multiculturalism and diversity of thought, upholding human rights, safeguarding innocent civilian lives in all contexts, and advocating tirelessly for global peace,” she said.
, “This is a time for empathy, compassion, and unity to support our colleagues, friends, and countless innocent people who once against have had the atrocities of war thrust upon them.”