Date October 11, 2023
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Brown community members reflect on impacts of violence in Israel and Gaza

A gathering convened by Brown RISD Hillel and Rohr Chabad House offered the chance for reflection and prayer on the toll the violence has taken on families directly affected and those who remain in fear as the conflict persists.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In the wake of last weekend’s devastating attacks by Hamas on Israel and the grave loss of life that has resulted in both Israel and Gaza, members of the Brown University community gathered on Wednesday, Oct. 11, for reflection and prayer about the tragic impacts of the violence.

Speakers both encouraged empathy, courage and peace and expressed outrage, anger and shock. Religious leaders, University leaders and student leaders alike offered prayers, music and words of comfort.

And a crowd of students, faculty, staff and local community members numbering in the hundreds convened as Brown RISD Hillel and Rohr Chabad House hosted the gathering of Jewish solidarity and prayer on the steps of Faunce House at Brown’s Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center.

Rabbi Josh Bolton, executive director of Brown RISD Hillel, said that in the midst of “unthinkable, unforgivable violence and chaos” inflicted upon family members, friends and colleagues, members of the Jewish community are stuck between the paralysis of sadness and the agitation of anger — yet living this moment together.

“I look out and I see a diverse, strong Jewish people even as we mourn,” Bolton said. “I see a campus community that is flourishing. Jewish joy is very strong here… Even if that is no consolation, I hope it may be a source of strength. We are a people that has prevailed and learned to celebrate life even after facing the darkest moments of human history. We will prevail again and celebrate again, drink and break bread together again, even if the darkest hours of this moment are still ahead.”

Brown President Christina H. Paxson condemned the attacks by Hamas, calling the actions utterly unjustifiable, urging community members to consider first and foremost the horrific toll the violence and death has taken on individuals and families directly impacted and those who remain in fear as the conflict persists.

“This is not a time for blame,” Paxson said. “It is a time for empathy. The situation in Israel and Gaza is awful. We are heartbroken for the people of Israel who have been terrorized by the recent events, and who have loved ones who are dead or unaccounted for. We also feel for the families, and especially for the children who were born into lives in the Gaza Strip, who are now living in a war zone for reasons beyond their control.”

Paxson’s remarks came a day after she encouraged all Brown community members to support each other and approach difficult conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with empathy, compassion and a commitment to advancing knowledge and understanding. The coming months will likely be difficult with more loss of life and hardship, she noted during the gathering, saying that it feels impossible to see a clear path to a truly lasting, peaceful resolution of the conflict.

“At moments like this — when there are no words to convey our anguish, and when all possible ways forward seem blocked — it’s time to pray,” Paxson said before reciting the Hashkiveinu, a prayer for peace.

Prayers for peace in the days ahead

Rabbi Jason Klein, associate chaplain of the University for the Jewish community, described sending countless text messages in recent days, to both Israeli and Palestinian friends, asking: “Are you okay? Is your family okay? I’m so sorry.” Brown is a campus where community members are deeply intertwined with people in Israel and Palestine, he noted — yet in the aftermath of the violence, students who are horrified about the deaths of civilians also confront the challenge of being able to be fully authentic in their shock, resilience and empathy.

“Let us be very, very careful about framing conversations strictly in the political arena when hundreds of civilians have been killed — when Israeli people are being held captive while rockets are raining down on Palestinian people,” Klein said. “ Let us not assume what one another is thinking or feeling about who feels safe on campus and about who does not; about what anyone else is experiencing; about what they need right now; and about how they comfort one another, and also when to possibly challenge one another as well.”

Brown undergraduate Jillian Lederman, president of Brown Students for Israel and chair of Hillel International’s Israel Leadership Network, called the past 100 hours the most devastating period for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

“There is no rationalizing this violence…” Lederman said. “It’s unforgivable. There are students, faculty and staff at Brown University whose family and friends are injured. Some are missing. Some have been killed. Thousands more have left their families to report for army duty, and almost all have spent hours on end in bomb shelters with nothing more than chants keeping them from the hands of terrorists. We pray for them, we mourn for them, we grieve for them and we fight for them.”

Lederman described being heartened by gatherings on Brown’s College Green on each of the past two nights, where more than 100 students danced, sang, mourned, waved the Israeli flag and honored the ever-growing number of victims.

“Over the coming days, we will continue to mobilize to protect and support one another, combat misinformation, pray for our loved ones and ensure that this campus remains a prosperous, safe and vibrant place for the Jewish people,” Lederman said. “There should be no politics here. The loss of innocent life, both in Israel and in Gaza, is devastating. I hear stories from friends in Israel who do not even have the ability to leave their army bases to attend the funerals of friends and family. It is unthinkable, but it is happening.”

As the gathering came to a close, community members joined arms to pray for peace.

“As we go forth from here, let’s go forth with peace,” Bolton urged. “And may we be blessed with peace in the days and time ahead.”