Over 50 Jewish and non-Jewish community members gathered in a morning of solemn and soulful prayer at the Chabad UF Jewish Student Center — guarded by a patrol car — Oct. 22 for “Unity and Solidarity with Israel,” an event supporting Israel amid its ongoing conflict with Hamas.
Several Israel Defense Force soldiers and veterans made appearances to share their experiences and show support for Israel.
Rabbi Berl Goldman opened the event by saying the past two weeks have been “the most difficult for our people in the last 50 or more years.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war Oct. 7, a day after the Palestinian paramilitary group Hamas barraged the country with missiles, killing approximately 1,400. Since then, tens of thousands of IDF soldiers have amassed at the Gaza border in anticipation of a possible ground invasion.
Goldman condemned Hamas as “pure evil.”
“Israel will no doubt defeat [Hamas] with God’s help,” Goldman told the audience. “It is not a matter of if but when. The nation of Israel and the entire world always triumphs over evil.”
Attendees were encouraged to make donations to several charities supporting the IDF and Israeli relief causes. Over 150 individual donations were made at the event, according to Goldman.
Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward made a brief appearance at the beginning of the event to pledge the city’s support toward Israel.
Even though Ward is Episcopalian, he “pray[s] from the same psalms.”
“We all want peace, we all want an end to suffering, but we know that right now it is time we stand together,” Ward said.
Throughout the event, attendees joined Chabad rabbis in reciting prayers from Tehillim, a collection of psalms attributed to King David, to show solidarity among Israeli and Jewish people.
Rabbi Aaron Notik said prayer is a source of strength in the Jewish community in times of war.
“We go calling out the name of God, really signifying that our strength as Jewish people is in our words, in our study of prayer,” Notik said. “The physical, fighting and waging war, is always seen as an issue of last resort. But if we have to resort to that, we’ve got to take it all the way.”
Noam Levy, a 22-year-old UF finance freshman, spoke about his military service in the IDF and told the Jewish community to embrace their identity amid the crisis.
Levy arrived at UF this semester after completing his service. On the day Hamas initially attacked Israel, he received a call from the IDF asking him to report to the base within two hours.
“I told them I was in Florida, but my instinct was to fly back to Israel,” Levy said. “We only have one Jewish country and we will do everything in order to protect it.”
Levy encouraged the Jewish community in Gainesville and abroad to be proud of their background.
“Don’t be afraid of your Jewish identity,” Levy said. “Stand strong for Israel.”
Contact Garrett Shanley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @garrettshanley.
Garrett Shanley is a third-year journalism and history major and The Alligator's Fall 2023 university administration reporter. In his free time, Garrett can be found watching Wong Kar-Wai movies and brooding.