Members of the UC Santa Barbara Jewish community gathered on Monday for a vigil and rally in solidarity with Israel following the Oct. 7 launch of surprise attacks from Hamas — a militant group based in the Gaza Strip.
At least 900 Israeli citizens were killed, leading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to formally declare war on Hamas. Following the declaration, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, halting supplies and killing at least 687 Palestinian citizens.
More than 100 students, faculty and administrators — Jewish and non-Jewish — assembled in front of Storke Tower at 7:30 p.m. for the vigil. The rally — organized by various Jewish community members — took place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside the Arbor. Organizers include Students Supporting Israel (SSI), the Associated Students (A.S.) Jewish Commission, Santa Barbara Hillel and Chabad at UCSB, as well as dozens of Jewish students not affiliated with a group.
Those participating in the rally wore blue and white — the colors of the Israeli flag — and many brought meaningful Israeli symbols, such as Israeli flags, kippot and tefillin, among other items.
“Over the weekend, the most Jews were killed in a single day since the Holocaust,” said A.S. Off-Campus Senator, Senate First President pro-tempore, A.S. Jewish Commission co-founder and event organizer Ephraim Shalunov. “It’s the worst violence the Jewish people have faced in over 50 years since the end of the Yom Kippur War, and we’re here to unequivocally take a stand for the Jews and others who lost their lives in Israel.”
Leaders of the vigil distributed candles and prayer sheets to attendees. After Shalunov shared a few words, participants recited a prayer listed on the sheet, followed by “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem.
Several attendees then shared how they have been personally affected by the violence in Israel. Chabad at UCSB Rabbi Gershon Klein also spoke at the event, urging participants to take 10 seconds to reach out to someone directly affected by the attacks.
Several UCSB administrators attended the vigil, including Chancellor Henry T. Yang and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn.
“As a campus, we are heartsick by the devastating loss of life that has resulted from the escalation of violence and the magnitude of pain and suffering,” Yang said in a statement to the Nexus. “Our collective thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones, as well as with all who are impacted, near and far.”
“Many here on campus and in our UC Santa Barbara family have deep ties to the region and are faced with fear and uncertainty,” the statement continued. “We stand with you in this dark hour and join together in a hope for peace.”
UC President Michael V. Drake and Board of Regents Chair Richard Leib echoed Yang’s sentiment in an Oct. 9 statement.
“What should have been a quiet weekend of rest turned into days of unspeakable terror and shock,” the statement read. “The violence is sickening and incomprehensible, and as of this moment we still do not know the fate of the hostages. This act deserves and requires our collective condemnation.”
“As a University community, which includes people from all different nationalities, faiths and political beliefs, our expressions of grief extend to all innocent people affected by this ongoing conflict.”
In an interview with the Nexus, A.S. President Tessa Veksler said that a goal of both the events — in addition to providing Jewish students with an opportunity to be together during a difficult time — was to inspire non-Jewish community members to demonstrate Jewish allyship and support Jewish students.
“Jewish students feel and have always felt when we go through times like this, that our only allies are ourselves,” Veksler said. “The goal is that with something like a rally, with something like a vigil, that it can spark even a little bit of allyship and a feeling that our non-Jewish peers and classmates and professors will support us.”
The UCSB chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) said in a statement to the Nexus that the organization hopes students remember the longstanding struggles of Palestinians in an occupied state.
“Students for Justice in Palestine at UCSB wish to stress that it is imperative to understand that Palestinians have suffered under occupation for decades, and resistance is a response to the daily violence, dehumanization, and colonization that Palestinians face,” the statement read.
SJP, along with many other similar student organizations at other universities, also co-signed a statement written by Bears for Palestine (BFP) at UC Berkeley.
“We support the resistance, we support the liberation movement, and we indisputably support the Uprising,” the BFP statement read.
Veksler said the event allowed UCSB’s Jewish community to collectively mourn the loss of life in Israel amid ongoing war efforts.
“This is about loss right now. So the best that we can do is deal with what’s happening at this current moment, which is that the Jewish community here and around the world is in mourning,” Veksler said.