On Monday, Oct. 9, students at this university gathered in front of McKeldin Mall for a vigil mourning the lives lost in Israel. Over the weekend, Israel was attacked by militant group Hamas, leaving more than 1200 Israelis dead, 2000 injured, and over 100 held hostage in Gaza, according to The Wall Street Journal. It was the biggest loss of Jewish life in one day since the Holocaust, according to The Washington Post.
The vigil was hosted by Terps for Israel, Jewish Student Union, and Mishelanu, the Israeli club on campus. University President Darryll Pines and SGA President Alexandra DeBus were in attendance, in addition to reporters from NBC and The Washington Post. The mall, lit up by the warm glow of memorial lights, was packed by the attendance of several hundred students.
Held only two days after the attacks began on Saturday, planning for the vigil was done quickly. According to Emma Steinhause, president of Terps for Israel, the vigil could not have been planned without the motivation and selflessness of the students and staff. “They worked straight from Sunday night until the vigil to show solidarity with Israel and support our campus community. The display of strength from not only the team behind the vigil, but every student in attendance, provided a much needed sense of comfort in such a horrific time.”
Many students from the university are feeling the emotional impact of the war in Israel that resulted from Hamas’s attack, and have been seeking a community to lean on. “The vigil was a heartfelt expression of the community’s collective anguish,” said sophomore Yoni Singer. “Though the pain of watching horrible things happen to our people and our country is deep and exhaustive, the vigil gave us the powerful feeling that we are not alone.”
In the days since the vigil, Hillel has provided Jewish students with counseling and emotional support animals to help support them through a traumatic time.
Many students at this university expressed feeling deeply connected with Israel and their Jewish roots. The university houses a large Jewish population, and many students have loved ones in Israel. Additionally, the University of Maryland Hillel coordinates many student trips to Israel, including Birthright, Israel Discovered, and Onward.
Rabbi Josh Lehman, who runs this university’s OU-JLIC alongside his wife, Rikki, led students in an intimate singing session following the vigil, with emotional traditional Hebrew songs being sung. Lehman aimed to create an environment for healing. “For the Jewish students on campus, and Jews all over the world, the horrific attack on Israel is personal. The vigil on campus gave students the opportunity to grieve for the hundreds of innocent lives lost, which for many includes family and friends. At McKeldin we came together as a campus and as a community to show that love and hope will always prevail.”