One week later: Student community mourns loss of life in Israel and Palestine

Jon Warech, executive director of Hillel at FIU, introduces a vigil for Israel on Oct. 9 | Julian Davis, PantherNOW

Conor Moore | Staff Writer

A series of attacks this past weekend by militant group Hamas against the state of Israel has left more than 1,000 Israelis and 800 Gazans dead so far.

The attacks are the latest in what has been part of a larger territorial dispute between Israel and Palestine stretching back nearly 80 years, with numerous criticisms levied at both governments for human rights violations.

Students at FIU this week have responded to the violence, mourning the loss of life on both sides. 

Hillel at FIU, the university’s largest student-run Jewish organization, hosted a community vigil for those affected by the recent attacks.

The room where the event was being held was supervised by several police officers who stood outside the door.

The vigil began with a tearful introduction by John Warech, executive director of Hillel at FIU. John began by praising the actions of the FIU community, singling out President Kenneth Jessell, who on Sunday issued a letter of support for Israeli citizens and Jewish people affected by the recent attacks.

“Today is a dark day, an incredibly difficult time for students, faculty and staff and us everywhere. But let’s take a second to acknowledge what unity feels like. The statement by the university President, the FIU swim and dive team, the outpouring of emails from all over FIU’s communities and everyone sitting here today in unity is the most comforting thing at a time like this,” Warech said at the vigil. 

Jewish religion practice of Tefillin, a set of black leather with inscribes of the Torah | Julian Davis, PantherNOW

Oren Stier, professor and director of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program spoke afterwards about the acts of violence committed during the attacks.

“Grief-stricken mothers, wailing helplessly as their terrified children were violently torn from their arms. Couples separated at gunpoint, men to the right and women to the left and marched away in separate directions. Entire families rounded up and shot. Elderly disabled women unable to even get up by themselves carted into automobiles by force.”

“We haven’t seen this level of violence against Jews all at once. Since the days of the Holocaust. And so that should give us pause.”

Stier’s words echo the fact that October 7th was the bloodiest day for Jewish civilians since the Holocaust.

Stier spoke at length about his family in Israel living close to the center of conflict and how they narrowly escaped by descending quickly into a bomb shelter. After, he said a prayer in English, with another prayer being said in Hebrew.

The fight between Israel and Palestine has had important geopolitical ramifications for the Middle East and the world. The current government in Israel, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has come under intense pressure and protest from the Israeli citizenry due to sweeping attempts at judicial overhaul.

Several students part of Hillel gave testimonials from students in Israel, such as those in Tel Aviv and other Hillels across the world. Israeli students wrote about how friends and family were kidnapped and killed during the initial wave of attacks.

Another round of prayers was said. Alex Sutton, SGA Student Body president was invited to speak.

“Our student government expresses solidarity and support with all Jewish people and Israel today. And I want you to know that your student leaders, many of whom are in this room, stand with everybody who’s affected by this conflict, this attack on Israel.”

Shlomi Dinar, Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs made a short speech regarding the new normal in the Levant region.

“This is the new reality of Israel. Israel will never be the same. So that’s the new reality for me, as well. We’re heading into a very long and very, very complicated war. You all, the students, but also us, the faculty, the administrators, the staff, we’re going to have to be the ambassadors for Israel, and we’re going to have to be measured.”

“We’re going to have to be very, very knowledgeable. We’re going to have to educate people. This is what’s in store for us for the next few days, weeks or possibly even months.”

Following the event, Dinar also made a statement to PantherNOW.

“We’re here for the students. We’re here to support you. Again today, we had as part of this event staff, we’ve had faculty, we’ve had administrators from a number of units at FIU and we are here to support and strengthen our students.”

“Personally, I’m heartbroken,” said Melanie Wisiniacki, student president of Hillel at FIU. “I have family, lots of family and extra family, cousins that have been called back from reserves to base to fight on the frontlines.”

“For me, it’s devastating. I have friends who are serving in the IDF right now. I have other friends who are just there at university and then have to go to bomb shelters that have to go through this, where they’re just trying to study,” said Natan Farhey, vice president of Hillel.

In response to Jessell’s letter of support, Wisniacki  approved of the show of solidarity, but disapproved of student groups not “completely in support of those affected by the attacks.”

“I don’t understand how anyone can condone any type of terrorism, murder, death – no matter who the victim is.”

“The fact that there are people in our FIU – at our own FIU community – that are condoning such violence is completely heartbreaking.”

PantherNOW also spoke with the Muslim Students Association, who provided a statement composed by several members of their executive board. 

“Unacceptable, inhumane, heartbreaking. These mere adjectives do not provide justice into the glimpse of reality we as humans feel towards the suffering of the people of Palestine,” reads the document provided to PantherNOW from MSA. “The daily videos, images, and dialogues we see are not only gut-wrenching but also cruel when we realize that no one is standing up for us.” 

“We stand in solidarity for Palestine, and we also stand in solidarity for any innocent life lost.”

Statement from MSA in response to PantherNOW questions. | Muslim Students Association

Thousands of settlements in the West Bank from Israel have been criticized by U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, calling their establishment “unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve.” 

In addition, MSA praised groups such as Young Democratic Socialists of America at FIU for showing support to the Palestinian cause. 

YDSA, along with African Students Association, Pakistani Students Union and Haitian Student Union and several other student organizations, posted a statement on Instagram Thursday evening standing with Palestine.
Tweet from YDSA at FIU on solidarity with Palestine.

The statement, which called the emails from Jessell insulting to Palestinians, was originally signed by two SGA senators. 

“We believe that FIU’s response, specifically the mass email sent to everyone at the University did not grasp the magnitude of this issue and failed to remotely even mention the fact that day-by-day, the lives of many Palestinian civilians are being taken by the government of Israel and their highly funded army,” MSA wrote in their statement to PantherNOW. 

“FIU and its staff should stand in solidarity for any and all civilians whose lives are affected, including an immense group of students at their own institution. It is truly heartbreaking to see it go unnoticed and silenced by the University we call home.”

MSA also stressed the importance of education and spreading awareness regarding the conflict and what best can be done to help those who seek to learn more, as well as help those currently affected by the violence now.

1 Comment on "One week later: Student community mourns loss of life in Israel and Palestine"

  1. Within this period, really, from 1941 forward, it is impossible to estimate how many Jews were killed, raped, decapitated, within the Arab world, strictly, because of the Arab world being antisemitic.

    Possibly, Professor Stier may have a guess?

    From Wikipedia:

    “The Jewish exodus from the Muslim world was the migration, departure, flight and expulsion of around 900,000 Jews from Muslim-majority countries in West Asia, North Africa and, to a lesser extent, Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia in the 20th century. Predominantly in response to the creation of Israel, the exodus mainly transpired from 1948 to the early 1970s, with one final exodus from Iran in 1979–80 following the Iranian Revolution. An estimated 650,000 of the departees settled in Israel.”

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