Dozens of students, faculty and community members gathered at the Bell Tower Thursday to peacefully stand in solidarity with the Israeli and Jewish community. Attendees donned Israeli flags and held signs of Israeli hostages in the air, on flags or even taped the images to their backs.
“We’re seeing terrible harassment of Jewish individuals, assaults, and sadly, we’re seeing an incredible amount of antisemitic rhetoric all around the U.S.,” said Raz Shermister, a third-year psychology major and Israel student leader at Owls for Israel. “Since Oct. 7, we have experienced five weeks of terrible pain, sleepless nights, and we’re praying for our loved ones in Israel and praying for hostages to come back home.”
At noon, the Bell Tower was decorated with “missing” posters and balloons for each of the 239 people who are being held in Gaza by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Attendees viewed the posters while hearing from speakers and joining in song.
The vigil came as Israel’s military shared that a 65-year-old woman, who was reportedly held hostage by Hamas, was found dead near Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital, CNN reported.
Owls for Israel, a student organization that advocates for Israel and Jewish students at Temple, planned the vigil with help from Hillel at Temple and other members of the university’s Jewish community.
On Oct. 7, Hamas attacked Israel, killing around 1,200 people and kidnapping nearly 240 Israelis. In response, Israel’s military launched an air and artillery strike campaign resulting in the death of more than 11,470 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, and displacing more than one million, The Associated Press reported.
Before Shermister and Sharon Dahis, a sophomore finance major and president of Owls for Israel, began speaking to the crowd, they played “Bring Them Home,” a song recently released by Gal De Paz, an Israeli singer and songwriter, to raise awareness for the hostage situation.
Dahis considers “Bring Them Home” the group’s slogan, he said.
“The horrific massacre of Jewish and Israeli people on Oct. 7 was the largest killing of Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Dahis said. “And now, as college students, the leaders of tomorrow, it’s our responsibility to stand against hate and prove to the world that ‘never again’ is now.”
Dahis concluded his initial remarks by starting a chant of “bring them home,” which quickly circulated through the crowd.
“A piece of our heart is kidnapped in Gaza by Hamas terrorists, and we won’t keep quiet until we bring them home,” Dahis said.
Following the chant, Owls for Israel invited Rabbi Baruch Kantor, director at the Stanley Middleman Center for Jewish Life, Rohr Chabad at Temple, to speak to the community. Kantor emphasized the importance of the Jewish community’s strength.
“When one part of the body is in pain, the whole body is in pain,” Kantor said. “When one part of the body needs to be healed, the rest of the body needs to strengthen itself to make sure that it doesn’t also fall. And strengthening itself to when the rest of the body becomes strong, it strengthens the part that needs help as well.”
Kantor concluded by leading a prayer in honor of the Jewish community and those impacted by the events in Israel, before directing people to a Hillel table which offered opportunities to participate in more prayer.
While scheduling the event, both Dahis and Shermister believed that a safe and peaceful demonstration was crucial due to opposition to their advocacy.
The event was approved by the university beforehand, and Vice President for Public Safety Jennifer Griffin was made aware of security measures at the event, Dahis said.
Multiple Temple University Police, Philadelphia Police and Allied University officers could be seen surrounding the event.
Hadassah Nisenfeld, a third-year student at Beasley Law School, said the event was meant to bring awareness to the hostages in Gaza and show support for the Jewish community at Temple and was not a place to “start a fight about Israel and Palestine.”
“Come here with an intent to learn about what this specific demonstration is really about,” Ninsenfield said. “And don’t assume the viewpoints of anyone that is coming here that they’re Islamophobic or anything like that.”
However, during the event, two people walking by spit at attendees, with one person spitting on Shermister while she was speaking.
Craig Whitman, a clinical professor and the assistant dean of academic affairs at the School of Pharmacy, felt it was his duty to come to the demonstration and stand with his fellow Jewish community members at Temple, he said.
Whitman held a sign that read “You can yell, you can swear, we aren’t going anywhere.”
“We want peace,” Whitman said. “We want to live. We don’t want any more violence. We want the hostages back. We want to live in the land that is ours. We want to live peacefully without the threat of constant attack. We want to be able to wear a Kippah, to be able to show our Jewish identity without being harassed.”