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Sunday, October 01, 2023

Gainesville community unites against antisemitism through rally

UF Chabad center held rally for solidarity, unity

<p>Rabbi Berl Goldman and his son Boruch stand in front of attendees at the Solidarity and Unity Rally held at Chabad UF Jewish Student and Community Center Friday Nov. 4, 2022.</p>

Rabbi Berl Goldman and his son Boruch stand in front of attendees at the Solidarity and Unity Rally held at Chabad UF Jewish Student and Community Center Friday Nov. 4, 2022.

About 100 Gainesville community members gathered to stand in solidarity and unity with the Jewish community Nov. 4. 

The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student Center along with community leaders held a solidarity and unity rally Friday after an antisemitic message was projected in Jacksonville at the Florida-Georgia football game Oct. 29.

“People are concerned, people are outraged and people are fearful,” said Rabbi Berl Goldman, director of Lubavitch Chabad. “People want to feel safe. People want to feel that there's a community with them.”

The message was prompted by recent antisemitic remarks from Ye, formerly known as Kanye West. In bright lettering “Kanye is right about the Jews!!!” was written across the exterior of the TIAA Bank Field through a projection. 

Together, UF and the University of Georgia condemned hate speech in a statement after the largely attended football game. 

Goldman helped organize the rally, which began at 5:30 p.m. Friday. After the Florida-Georgia game, Goldman received messages of support and unity from every segment of UF, Santa Fe College, law enforcement, local community leaders, city and county officials, he said. 

Community members and students helped brainstorm the idea of holding a rally to unite the community. They sent out over 100 calls, texts, and emails calling for active solidarity to Goldman, he said. 

“We want to share with the Jewish community and by extension the entire community, that hate, bias and anti-semitism will not prevail,” Goldman said. 

In 2018, UF was reported to have 6,500 Jewish undergraduate students and 2,900 Jewish graduate students compared to overall 35,247 undergraduate students and 17,422 graduate students. 

Community leaders such as mayoral candidates Harvey Ward and Ed Bielarski, as well as District 4 county commission candidate Ken Cornell addressed the crowd at the rally. Members of UF leadership like the chief diversity officer and interim dean of students also made an appearance at the rally.

Ward, a Gainesville city commissioner, believes all community leaders should speak up to make sure neighbors know they’re safe, he said. 

“It’s important that leaders speak up in difficult times and when leaders don't, their silence is deafening,” Ward said.

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It’s important for leaders to work on addressing this hate speech through education in the community, Bielarski said. 

“Anytime there’s hate in the community that’s putting people in danger and making them nervous about their very existence,” Bielarski said. “You have to stand up for it.”

Cornell, Alachua County District 4 commissioner, received an invitation to speak from Goldman, and it took him about three seconds to say yes, he said. 

“As a county commissioner you have our full support 100 percent,” Cornell said. “I don’t know any county commissioner who would be opposed to that.”

UF administration including Marsha McGriff, UF chief diversity officer, and Jonathan Yorkowitz, UF interim dean of students, also spoke at the rally.

McGriff met with Jewish student leaders to provide support and to figure out how the university can help, she said.

“We're [UF] going to have strategic planning devoted specifically to this,” McGriff said. “We're going to be doing some assessment of culture, climate and sense of belonging with our Jewish students in the spring.”

Yorkowitz wants students to know his team of staff is there to provide any additional support and that any hate or intolerance does not align with the community’s values, he said. 

“Along with you, I find these words and actions to be harmful and unacceptable in a modern global society with such rich diversity,” Yorkowitz said. 

Along with community and university leaders, two UF students spoke to the crowd. 

Joseph Pensaba, a 21-year-old UF computer science senior and Lubavitch Chabad student group president, thought the recent outpour of support for the Jewish community was incredible, he said.

Support is the most incredible thing that anyone can give the community, Pensaba said, and he was very grateful for that. 

“Help the community; help people out. This is a way to fight antisemitism in my view and stand united,” Pensaba said. 

Naomi Rozenberg, Gators for Israel president, spoke to the crowd about how her family fled from Belgium in order to escape religious inequality. 

The hate speech spread last weekend at the football game was not an isolated incident, she said. However, this is the first time she’s felt hopeful in winning the fight against rising anti-semitism, Rozenberg said. 

“Please do not let your activism stop at an Instagram story,” Rozenberg said. “Educate yourself. Speak up. Stand Up.”

Nicole Buenavida, a 23-year-old UF biomedical engineering senior and previous Lubavitch Chabad student group president, attended the rally and was grateful for the community coming out to show their support, she said. 

“This is one of the main steps for learning and supporting the community. Inform yourself. Read what's going on in the world,” Buenavida said. 

Usually, people who are antisemites are that way because they don’t know any better, Buenavida said. 

“Don’t just go against a group of people because of what happened in the past or what you’ve heard of,” Buenavida said. 

After the rally ended at 6:30 p.m., UF Hillel invited the community to “Show up for Shabbat,” an event featuring services and dinner for Jewish and non-Jewish students at its center. 

Contact Claire and Malori at and Follow them on Twitter @grunewaldclaire and @malori_malone. 

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Claire Grunewald

Claire Grunewald is a fourth-year journalism major and the Fall 2023 engagement managing editor. In the past, she reported for the university and metro desks. When she isn't working at The Alligator, she is reviewing books on Goodreads and going to concerts. 

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