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Harvard Affiliates Gather at Hillel to Show Support and Grieve Amid Invasion of Israel

Harvard Hillel is the University's Jewish center.
Harvard Hillel is the University's Jewish center. By Julian J. Giordano
By Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writer

More than 100 University affiliates attended a Harvard Hillel gathering Saturday afternoon to mourn the lives lost to a deadly invasion of Israel by the Islamist militant group Hamas and to offer support to those affected by the attacks.

Students and affiliates gathered in person at Hillel, the University’s Jewish center, as well as on Zoom in a show of unity, with leaders of Harvard Chabad also taking part in the event. The gathering took place just hours after news of the invasion, which began early Saturday morning.

“This morning we woke up to horrifying news, a ruthless series of terror attacks, against Israeli civilians that has the entire country shocked and grieving,” read an email signed by the Israeli students of Harvard Hillel, inviting affiliates to attend the gathering, as well as to donate to help affected families.

Around 6:30 a.m. local time, Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip invaded southern Israel — assaulting Israeli towns and military bases and firing thousands of rockets — resulting in more than 300 Israelis dead, more than 1,500 injured, and dozens of hostages taken by Hamas as of Saturday evening. Israeli forces retaliated with strikes on targets in the Gazan cities, leaving more than 230 Palestinians dead and more than 1,600 injured.

The surprise assault is the broadest attack on Israel in 50 years and comes just one day after the anniversary of the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The attack on Saturday took place on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Organizer Shai-li Ron ’24 said Israeli students began to organize Saturday morning to provide support and allow space to grieve.

“I think this is one of the times in my life that I’ve felt the deepest pain — for my friends and family and people — and the biggest fear I’ve ever felt for them,” Ron said.

“I couldn’t go about my day without thinking about and trying to help my people in Israel,” Ron added. “So I thought that it would be amazing if we could, as a community, gather — we could speak about what we’re going through, and we could also have a practical way to try and help.”

The gathering began with a religious service led by rabbis from Hillel and Chabad, followed by remarks by students who shared stories of family members and friends in Israel affected by the attacks.

Uri A. Rolls ’26, who helped organize the event, said he was “terrified” to hear the news and hoped the gathering helped bring students together and raise awareness.

“I was shocked. I was mainly really afraid,” Rolls said. “I spent all my morning calling everyone I know. Many people didn’t pick up.”

“I think it’s extremely important for everyone in the Jewish and the Israeli community, outside of it, to remember the reality we come from,” Rolls added.

The gathering transitioned to Zoom, where David Koren, the CEO of ERAN – an emotional support hotline based in Israel — spoke of the surge of calls the group had received from Israeli residents in Gaza throughout the day.

ERAN CEO David Koren speaks to Harvard affiliates in Hillel.
ERAN CEO David Koren speaks to Harvard affiliates in Hillel. By Julian J. Giordano

Ron said organizers invited ERAN to speak at the gathering to share what they heard Saturday and ways people can help.

Attendee Hiro Kondo ’25 said he decided to come to the gathering to support his Israeli friend.

“I think it’s very different when you know someone who’s been affected,” Kondo said.

Kondo said attending the event and seeing those who were directly affected made the news of the attacks feel “so much more real.”

“I saw the photos, I saw the videos, and I think a lot of people would say that they’re horrific,” Kondo said. “But in so many ways, just being in the room and watching people hold back tears felt so real and so much more real than photos and videos.”

Hillel Holiday Chair Zebulon Erdos ’25 said the attacks were a “huge shock and blow to our community,” but added he was grateful so many people were able to come together.

“I think that it was also important that we saw such an amazing cross-section of both the Jewish community, as well as our friends from outside of the Jewish community,” Erdos said. “We had members here from all levels of observance in Judaism, even people who are not at all observant — all levels of affiliation.”

“That was a very beautiful dimension to this event,” Erdos added.

Rolls said the gathering “was a huge show of love and support.”

“I would not be able to get through it alone, and I think today was a good sign that I won’t have to,” Rolls said.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com.

Editor’s Note: Readers should note that premoderation has been turned on for online commenting on this article out of concerns for student safety.

—Cara J. Chang, President

—Brandon L. Kingdollar, Managing Editor

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