A crowd of nearly 200 members of the Penn community joined together for a vigil in solidarity with Israel.
The event — organized by Penn Hillel in response to the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel — was held Tuesday afternoon in front of the LOVE statue by College Green. Some crowd members wore shirts that read “We Stand with Israel," while others had the Israeli flag draped around their shoulders.
Several administrators were present at the vigil, including President Liz Magill, Vice President for Public Safety Kathleen Shields Anderson, Dean of Penn Engineering Vijay Kumar, and Dean of the School of Social Policy & Practice Sally Bachman.
“I wish that we weren’t here right now,” Executive Director at Penn Hillel Rabbi Gabe Greenberg said at the vigil. “We are here to show our support for Israel. For the Israeli people. For our Israeli and Israeli American students, staff, faculty in the Penn community. For the Jewish community worldwide who are experiencing fear, anger, sadness, confusion, mourning, grief, and a host of other emotions.”
University Chaplain and Vice President for Social Equity & Community Chaz Howard told the audience not to "lose hope for peace." He cited how the vigil took place in front of the LOVE Statue and near the Peace Symbol outside Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.
“It's been a really hard time to be Jewish right now," Howard said, citing a "frightening" increase in antisemitism. "It's been a hard time being Jewish at Penn. I hope you know that you're loved. And that there are a lot of others who are present with you right now. [And] that you are not alone.”
Wharton and Engineering junior Noah Rubin, an Israeli American and the co-founder of the Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee, echoed Howard's sentiments. Rubin — who has family living in Israel — told gatherers that the events that had unfolded over the last few days were “not normal.”
"This gathering gives me strength to see all of you here today,” Rubin said. “Let's [at Penn] set an example for what other college campuses can do in terms of fundraising, in terms of education, prayer, advocacy, and Jewish unity."
Wharton MBA first-year Talya Yoshpe, an Israeli student who served in the Israeli military during the 2014 Gaza War, said that a “cold-hearted massacre like this” is something that she thought her generation would never have to experience.
College junior Maya Harpaz and sophomore Sara Greenberg listed the names of fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The crowd went silent for more than three minutes as the two students read the list of names.
The vigil concluded with a prayer for the safe return of hostages led by Israeli American and College sophomore Elan Goldman, the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish, and the singing of Hatikvah — Israel’s national anthem.
Throughout the speeches and prayers, individuals in the crowd could be seen crying and hugging.
“It was powerful to be with others in the Penn community," Greenberg — the Penn Hillel executive director — told The Daily Pennsylvanian following the vigil. "Being together, experiencing a range of emotions, and, just getting to be together in a community.”
College junior Sutton Grossinger said there was a strong sense of community at the vigil that underscored the large number of students and community members affected by the conflict.
"[The event] opened my eyes to the fact that this campus at large is impacted by what’s going on,” she said.
The vigil came a day after Penn Hillel released a statement on the conflict that said the organization was praying for the "safety and strength of all Israelis." In the coming days and weeks, Penn Hillel will offer a range of resources for students as they process recent events.
On Tuesday, Penn announced it would defer all University-affiliated travel to Israel and Palestine for the foreseeable future. Members of the Penn Arab Student Society also hosted a "night of reflection, community, and conversation" in Houston Hall, mourning "the lives lost in Gaza and across occupied Palestine."
Both Greenberg and Howard urged those in need of support to reach out to services, including staff at Hillel, Special Services in the Division of Public Safety, Student Intervention Services, and the Chaplain’s Office.