In light of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, about 40 students and community members gathered in Turlington Plaza to pray for the Israeli Defense Force and to celebrate their Jewish heritage around noon Thursday.
Rabbi Aron Notik led the short prayer service for the IDF in Hebrew and was proud of the turnout, despite the service being in the middle of the day. One goal of the service was to help students find strength and unity in the Jewish community and each other, Notik said.
Services like this have a large impact on student wellbeing, he said.
“We feel the need to come together to strengthen each other — to come together in prayer asking God to provide safety and security, both for our brothers and sisters in Israel, for Jewish people all over the world and really for all of humanity,” Notik said.
Prayer-goers engaged in call-and-response chants and singing and dancing. In the spirit of the music being sung, two groups — one of men and one of women — formed to do the horah, a traditional circle dance.
Ultimately, the prayer was meant to bring students together to support Israel and to promote positivity in an otherwise negative time, said Chanie Goldman, co-director of the Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student Center.
“Jews throughout the centuries have survived many difficult challenges,” Goldman said. “But we've always had the resilience and the hope to rise and shine.”
Joseph Bensabet, president of the Lubavitch Chabad student group and UF computer science senior, helped coordinate the event with the Jewish student community. The turnout was uplifting — the community feels the support and unity the service aimed to provide, he said.
“It’s really amazing to see everybody show up together in solidarity to pray for our brothers and sisters in Israel — praying for wellbeing and peace,” Bensabet said.
For Sophie Miller, a 19-year-old UF business administration sophomore, having family in Israel during the ongoing conflict has been scary, she said. She attended the event to commemorate her Jewish heritage and pray for all the families in Israel.
“Things aren't super great right now,” she said. “But we still have each other, and we still stick together, and we celebrate that.”
The service comes a day after a large Palestinian walkout and vigil on UF’s campus that ended in Turlington Plaza and two days after Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Florida universities to disband pro-Palestinian student groups.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia have been on the rise in the U.S. since the Palestinian-Islamist group Hamas attack on Oct. 7, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL reports a nearly 400% increase in antisemitic incidents since the attack, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations has received 774 complaints of Islamophobia since Oct. 7, according to Reuters.
For many, like Notik and Bensabet, peace is the priority.
Alissa Gary is a second-year journalism major who's covering K-12 education for The Alligator. She has previously reported on student government and university administration. Aside from writing, she likes to take care of her plants and play (and usually win) the New York Times sudoku puzzle.
Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.