Hundreds of students packed Penn Hillel for "Shabbat Together," an event to promote Jewish unity following several antisemitic incidents on campus.
Penn Hillel invited both Jewish and non-Jewish students to join them to celebrate Jewish pride, unity, and togetherness, Penn Hillel Executive Director and Rabbi Gabe Greenberg explained in a letter to Hillel’s mailing list on Sept. 14.
In response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, Hillel announced the “Shabbat Together” event as a way to promote unity on campus amid the controversy. The dinner portion of the event took place on Sept. 22, at 7:30 p.m., the night of the festival’s opening, following services.
The festival has sparked outrage from Jewish groups on campus and nationwide, who allege that some of the event’s speakers have made antisemitic remarks in the past.
The planning of “Shabbat Together” came before an unknown individual shouted antisemitic obscenities and turned over furniture in Hillel on Sept. 21. Penn administrators later announced that a swastika was discovered on the fourth floor of Meyerson Hall.
Penn Hillel Co-Presidents and College juniors Lauren Krasilovsky and Eitan Weinstein, Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, and 1963 Wharton graduate Stuart Weitzman spoke during the event following Shabbat services. College junior Kevin Bina then led the audience in singing the Jewish hymn, “Hine Ma Tov," and College senior Eyal Yakoby spoke to attendees eating on the second floor of Hillel.
Krasilovsky and Weinstein emphasized the importance of togetherness following the two separate acts of antisemitism, including at Meyerson Hall, which is a part of the Weitzman School of Design.
“Despite how wonderful it is to be with one another as one, we all know that there is a palpable tension in the air this weekend, especially after yesterday’s horrible act of vandalism in this place that so many of us call home,” Weinstein said in one copy of his remarks sent to a Hillel email list.
Despite a difficult week for Penn's Jewish community, Greenberg called on students to be proud of their Jewish identities on campus, no matter how they manifest that identity.
During his speech, Weitzman spoke extensively on how Jewish accomplishments have been fundamental to developments in health care, finance, science, and arts. He also stated that it was important for Jewish students to support Israel, drawing what he said were stark differences between Jewish people and Palestinians.
While he acknowledged that antisemitism has shifted over time and is less overt than it was during his time at Penn, Weitzman said it now occurs in the form of campus visits from speakers like Roger Waters — who joined the Palestine Writes festival via Zoom hours before Shabbat.
College sophomore Ethan Farber said that "Shabbat Together" was a testament to the strength of Penn's Jewish community.
“One thing that was said that really resonated with me was that no matter what, the one thing they can’t take away from us is our Jewish identity,” Farber said.
The controversy over Palestine Writes — combined with the antisemitic vandalism on campus — has also weighed personally on Farber, he said. Farber said that the event was happy, but he "noticed a nervous air that [he] never really felt at Hillel before."
“Recently, I have felt a little less comfortable being a Jewish person on this campus," Farber said. "I have had to be more aware about safety. I’ve had to be cognizant of what I’m wearing when I’m in certain places and what I am talking about when I am out."
Another student attendee, who requested anonymity for fear of personal safety, said that he had never seen Hillel more packed. The first and second floors of Hillel were both full during the course of the event.
Ahead of the event, Penn President Liz Magill, alongside other administrators, pledged to take additional steps to combat antisemitism on campus and condemned recent antisemitic incidents on campus — including strengthened security measures at Penn Hillel and the Lubavitch House.