Some 40 students gathered at Hillel’s temporary Bartlett Street headquarters on the New Brunswick campus Oct. 8 to recite Psalms and sing “Hatikva” and “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”).
The event was organized by Esti Mellul of Teaneck, a senior communications major in a joint bachelor’s/master’s program and a member of Hillel’s Israel board.
“I felt it was really important for people to understand even though we’re here and everything at Rutgers and in New Brunswick seems to be very normal, the lives of our people just a few thousand miles away are not normal,” she said. “A lot of people even here are walking around in distress and have no way to talk about what is happening. I feel it is important to bring the Jewish community together to pray together and be with others who feel the same way.”
Israel is on high alert after a series of stabbings and clashes between soldiers and Palestinian protesters. Among the dead are husband and wife Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, shot dead near their northern West Bank home, and two rabbis attacked in the Old City of Jerusalem.
New Jersey's U.S. senators both condemned the attacks on the Israelis and reiterated their commitment to Israeli security.
“In the last few ‘days of rage,’ attackers have turned knives, guns, a car and a meat cleaver into weapons.There is no excuse for these attacks,” said Sen. Bob Menendez in a release. “I condemn it, and so, too, should the rest of the world.” He added: “I stand behind Israel’s fundamental right to defend itself and its people from violence and terror. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his government have an obligation to stop these attacks, to cease the harsh rhetoric that incites them, and to negotiate in good faith for a peaceful resolution. “It is imperative that the United States continue to ensure that Israel has the resources its needs to enhance its security and meet these threats.”
Sen. Cory Booker said the “incitement of violence and the murder of innocent people going about their daily lives is unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest of terms. My heart aches for the victims of the recent outbreak of violence in Israel, and my prayers are with their families. We must stand resolute in our commitment to supporting the security of our ally Israel and the safety of its people as we work against both those who incite and those who perpetrate acts of terrorism. The only path to peace is through negotiation, not violence.”
“It is frustrating”
Ido Mahatzri, the Jewish Agency Israel fellow at Rutgers Hillel, said he was heartened that the Hillel community “has our back.” He was set to return to Israel for a two-week visit.
Mahatzri told the students he had downloaded an app to his phone to let him know whenever an incident occurs in Israel.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “Every time it buzzes I get nervous it could be one of my family or friends. It’s not easy.”
When he came to Rutgers last year, he said, he expected to help students learn about Israelis and Israeli life. However, he was surprised to find he had something to learn.
“You have my back and not just me, but the whole people of Israel,” he said. “When I go back tomorrow I know I will have your support and the people of Israel have your support and we really appreciate it.”
Mellul lamented that there was not more she could do for Israelis in distress.
“It is frustrating to me to feel I can’t do anything to help them physically, but perhaps I can help them spiritually and inspire other people who can help them physically,” she said.
She cited in particular the murders of the Henkins, who were shot by Palestinian terrorists in front of their four young children.
“All the attacks were designed to make us feel alone and not visit Israel and not sit in a sukka,” said Mellul, adding, “If they can break am Yisrael they have won.”
While the recent spate of violence is directed at Israelis, said Rabbi Adam Frieberg, a co-educator with the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, the hatred was directed at the Jewish community as a whole.
“The point of terror is to terrify us and make us look over our shoulder,” he told the gathering.
The program resonated with many of the attending students. Eli Weiss of Highland Park, a senior engineering major, said, “We’re here to pray for and protect our family in Israel.”
Deborah Shemilov, a sophomore biology major from Voorhees, said she attended to express her love of Israel with others who felt the same way.
“It is a good way to show our support,” she said.