Content warning: this article discusses systemic violence and antisemitism.
Students, faculty, and religious leaders came together in a sea of white and blue flags on the evening of Oct. 11 to mourn for loved ones in Israel. Around 60 people, including students, religious leaders, and other members of the Georgetown community, gathered on the Healy steps for a vigil organized by Chabad Georgetown to commemorate the lives of those who have been killed, taken hostage, or impacted by the ongoing violence.
Participants lit traditional yahrzeit, or memorial candles, which burn for 24 hours to honor the memory of the dead, as student leaders from Chabad and Georgetown Israeli Alliance shared stories of their personal pain and fear for their loved ones. Speakers throughout the event underscored the importance of uniting as a community.
“Our Jewish pride becomes our source of strength, reminding us of our rich history, our shared values, and the unbreakable bonds that tie us together,” Madison Lieberman (CAS ’24), one of the student speakers, said. “It signifies that we are a people that have overcome adversity time and time again, emerging stronger every single time.”
Rena Gabber (SFS ’24), one of the event’s main organizers, said that she wanted to create a space where Georgetown’s Jewish community could feel supported after hearing about the attack on Israel.
“For me, one of the best responses to such traumatic and terrifying events is coming together as a community. I think there’s strength in doing that,” she said. “And I think it also reminds people that they’re not alone. And that although Jewish students are a minority here, we are still a community.”
Besides the student leaders, Rabbi Daniel Schaefer and Jewish Agency Israel Fellow Noam Kara also made remarks and led the audience in prayer. Attendees lifted the spirits of the emotional event by reciting three songs and prayers for peace—Oseh Shalom, Am Yisrael Chai, Kol Ha’Olam Kulo—and the Israel national anthem together.
“When I look and I see the faces of the dead, they’re people our age and they’re people who my friends know, or who are family members of people in the Jewish community at Georgetown or the broader Jewish community in the United States,” Gershon Stein (SFS ’24), another event organizer, told the Voice. Stein’s hope for the vigil was to create a space where people felt safe to mourn.
“War is war, but civilians are another thing. And my heart breaks for both sides,” he said.
According to Gabber and Stein, the university was supportive of setting up the event, and commended the speed of President DeGioia’s statement condemning Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.
Stein was particularly moved by the sight of the yahrzeit burning throughout the night. He drew comparisons between yahrzeit candles lit when mourning Holocaust victims and the events unfolding in Israel today; the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas was reported to be the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.
In an interview with the Voice, Stein and Gabber urged the Georgetown community to be outspoken and call out antisemitism and misinformation in the wake of the violence in Israel and Gaza. Samantha Yershov (SFS ’25), President of the Georgetown Israel Alliance, echoed these sentiments in her speech.
“Continue to educate yourself on the situation in Israel,” she said. “We cannot be discouraged by misinformation and lies. Be an advocate for yourself and your people.”
The common message between speakers was to be kind and support one another. The event ended with prayers for the victims and a call by Yershov for peace, along with a hope that one day in the future, people will not be afraid to be Jewish.