Date October 19, 2023
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Palestinian, Arab, Jewish and Israeli students at Brown convene vigil to mourn lives impacted

In the wake of the violence and death in Israel and Gaza, the students welcomed community members to light candles, observe moments of silence, and share thoughts, prayers, grief and calls to action.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With loss of life, suffering and grief continuing in Israel and Gaza over nearly two weeks since the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 — and amid mounting frustration with vilification and polarization — a group of Palestinian, Arab, Jewish and Israeli students at Brown University hosted a campus vigil to mourn all innocent Palestinian and Israeli lives impacted.

More than 100 attendees —from students and faculty to University leaders and local community members — joined student organizers on the College Green for an evening vigil on Thursday, Oct. 18. They lit candles, observed moments of silence to commemorate lives lost, and shared thoughts, prayers, grief and calls to action.

“We wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that this week has been an incredibly painful one for our Palestinian, Arab, Jewish and Israeli friends of Brown,” said one student organizer who welcomed attendees. “It has been heart-wrenching and disturbing to witness what has been broadcast and shared with our world. We wanted to make space for our communities to stand together rather than let ourselves be divided.”

With incidents of harassment directed toward students expressing views on Israel and Gaza in the news on a near daily basis, the students organized and hosted the event anonymously. The organizers read testimonies and perspectives shared by student peers on campus.

Among the themes were pleas for people to think beyond dominant public narratives.

“I urge the world to look at Palestine as more than Hamas,” one Palestinian student shared in testimony read aloud during the vigil. “We are brave, kind, strong, intelligent and empathetic. Amongst us, you'll find the most ambitious and accomplished lawyers, doctors, engineers, writers, artists and activists. Amongst us are the most selfless individuals who are risking their lives on the ground as they tirelessly provide medical assistance, food, water and essentials for survival to those in need. Amongst us is the best of humanity, and our sense of community, belonging, generosity, grace and empathy is unshakable.”

Two students who offered remarks together described themselves as Jewish, Israeli, leftist and humanist, noting that they’ve found themselves forced to defend and prove that those identities can exist concurrently.

“In the end, there is no escaping that our fates — the Jews and Palestinians of Israel and Palestine — are intertwined…” one of the students said. “I'm done with separating into different camps. Our miscommunication is seeding greater divides. No. When Palestinians call for from the river to the sea, they are not calling for Jewish genocide. They're calling for liberation for human rights. The fact that I need to stand here and clarify that is a testament to our need to talk to each other, to humanize each other. That's what we're hoping to start today by bringing together not just Jewish students to mourn and stand with Jewish students, and not just Palestinian students to mourn and stand with Palestinian students.”

University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson and Rabbi Jason Klein offered remarks and prayers during the vigil. President Christina H. Paxson, Provost Francis J. Doyle III, Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes, and Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Sylvia Carey-Butler were among other Brown leaders who attended.

There’s a flame that burns in every human heart that’s capable of kindling love, Cooper Nelson said, even in moments when hatred, fear and division feel as pervasive as they have over the past 11 days.

“We're really honored tonight by the work of the students who've pulled this together, for the way that the welcome that is here for everybody continues,” Cooper Nelson said. “A spirit that I hope will prevail at Brown, where we will find ways to hear one another, where we will listen with our hearts, with that flame of love that can burn in us even when we're very distrustful… And where tonight there is so much loss and so much worry in Palestine and in Israel and in families around the world because of that loss, I know that our privilege to be here together must be somehow that kindling of peace-building and friendship-making and of including each of us — the other — with deep dignity and a great sense of the privilege that's ours to be in each other's care.”

The student organizers shared multiple calls to action during the event. They ranged from a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza and the release of non-militant hostages, to the release of humanitarian aid into Gaza, to protection for Palestinian students harassed for their views and Jewish students impacted by acts of antisemitism.

“It takes a lot of bravery from each and every one of you to come into this space willing to build bridges and to acknowledge that there are a lot of people on this campus who are in pain right now,” one student organizer said at the vigil’s close. “I encourage for the next couple of days and weeks, for this conflict will be long, that we are willing to engage with empathy, curiosity and open-mindedness.”