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Students gather for healing, community during Israel-Hamas War

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Amid the Israel-Hamas war, students seek healing in the form of campus communities and groups.


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Senior Staff

OCTOBER 26, 2023

The past few weeks have seen many campus communities come together for healing and support in the wake of the latest Israel-Hamas war.

Rabbi Gil Leeds, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at Berkeley, said healing has been a difficult process for the campus Jewish community.

“When we got the news, the Jewish holiday was still happening here,” Leeds said. “We made the conscious effort to continue to celebrate the holiday because we knew that it’s supposed to be a joyous holiday, with dancing, with the Torah … because we wanted to honor the victims.”

He added that the healing process for Jewish individuals on campus means coming together “to support and believe the healing will come.”

One of the campus Israeli community’s early responses to the latest Israel-Hamas war was a candlelight vigil held Oct. 8 in front of Sproul Hall. During the vigil, Ethan Katz, chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Jewish Life and Campus Climate, notified attendees of various campus and community resources for mental health and support. Attendees delivered speeches, lit candles in the shape of the star of David on the steps before Sproul Hall and joined in a prayer for peace.

“It was beautiful to see everybody wanting to do something to support. I felt so alone this weekend,” said one of the vigil’s organizers, who requested anonymity due to safety concerns, during the vigil. “Doing something made us feel less helpless.”

In the week immediately following the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war, Berkeley Hillel held a memorial service Oct. 9 and reserved its first floor classroom Monday through Friday as a safe space for students. The classroom was also host to a daily facilitated support group held by Hillel members.

Continued support has taken the form of daily prayers at Sather Gate, Leeds said, with smaller crowds and shorter prayers.

“The Jewish people are definitely a people of prayer. The name Jew, the etymological root of it means to give thanks and to have gratitude,” Leeds said. “We’re ensuring thanks and gratitude on one hand and also asking that there should be no more loss of life, not just on the side of Israel and the Jewish people but that also the people in Gaza should be free from Hamas … so the peace is a true and lasting peace.”

Leeds noted the campus Jewish community has seen an “awakening” in the weeks since the start of the war. People “wanting to do good deeds” have inundated the community, he said.

Both the quantity and quality of community involvement has increased, according to Leeds. He added that parents, community and “people all over” are wanting to donate and asking how they can be of help.

Students supporting Palestine are also coming together in response to recent events. A board member of the campus Muslim Student Association, or MSA, who requested anonymity due to safety concerns, noted in an email that healing and mourning have been difficult, due in part to safety concerns.

The UC Berkeley Middle Eastern-North African Recruitment and Retention Center, or MENARRC, hosted a healing circle Oct. 16 in solidarity with Palestine. A MENARRC member, who requested anonymity due to safety concerns, noted that supporting the Palestinian community is one of the organization’s core values.

Healing circles are not unique to this event, they noted; MENARRC, among other student organizations, host them quite often. They added MENARRC made this event accessible to anybody of Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, identifying background.

“We offer a safe space for open discussion and for people to really just take the time and space for themselves,” the MENARRC member said. “Students can come in and just talk to one another, and sometimes we lead a discussion.”

In the healing circle, the MENARRC member said, students discussed the “constant state of fear” many MENA-identifying individuals feel with regards to social media and campus visibility.

They added that the Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Coalition, or MEMSSA, and Bears For Palestine have hosted an informational session about Palestinian history.

The MSA board member noted in the email that MSA has been focusing on empowering and supporting Palestinians. Religion and spirituality, they noted, have played an important part in the healing process.

“When we were finally able to have a vigil for Palestine, Muslims offered funeral prayers, Christians supplicated, and people from every faith background came together for a moment of silence,” the MSA board member said in the email. “It was truly amazing seeing people of all faiths come together to appreciate the practices of one another and to stand with one another in such difficult times.”

Ananya Rupanagunta contributed to this report.

Contact Chanyoung Chung at 


OCTOBER 26, 2023