Yale Daily News

Members of the Yale and New Haven communities gathered Monday night in two separate vigils to mourn the recent violence that has engulfed Israel. One vigil took place at the Women’s Table on Cross Campus and another at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven in Woodbridge, Conn.

As of Monday evening, at least 1,600 Israelis and Palestinians have been killed as violence in Gaza and Israel continues. The Israeli government formally declared war against Hamas — the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip — on Sunday, after Hamas’s Saturday surprise attack against Israel.

“This war is impacting the Yale community deeply and personally,” Executive Director of the Slifka Center Uri Cohen said to a crowd of around 400 amassed outside Sterling Memorial Library. “Israeli and non-Israeli, it seems that almost every Jewish Yalie is at most one step from a devastating personal loss amongst the widespread death that has already occurred.” 

Cohen also said a significant number of Jewish Yale students have loved ones involved in the Israeli army or being held as hostages.

At a Woodbridge gathering attended by Gov. Ned Lamont, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, Jewish leaders mourned the violence and called for support of Israel, both from the United States government and members of the New Haven community. 

An outpouring of grief at the Women’s Table

The Yale community has struggled to reckon with the events in Israel and the Gaza Strip over the past three days. This weekend, the Slifka Center held a community meeting for students to reflect and come together in place of the annual Simchat Torah run.

Late Sunday evening, Rabbi Jason Rubenstein sent an email addressed to Yale’s Jewish community sharing resources for students and announcing a candlelight vigil on Monday at 8 p.m. 

“No person can or should navigate this alone,” the email read. “We are coming together … mourning and praying for the victims of this attack. This vigil is for members of the Jewish community and for every member of the Yale community who would like to share in our grief with solidarity. Please come as we find comfort and strength in one another’s presence, coming close through words, songs, and prayers.”

While Slifka welcomes approximately 100 students per week for regular programming, such as Shabbat Friday night dinner, the turnout Monday night was far greater, with over 400 members of the Yale community in attendance, including Yale President Peter Salovey. 

After moments of unprompted swaying and song at 8 p.m., Cohen addressed the “grand and sorrow” gathering and gave an overview of the vigil’s events which included speeches from him and Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, remarks from Yale students, singing lead by Magevet — Yale’s Jewish, Hebrew and Israeli a cappella group — and prayer. 

Cohen began his remarks with a description of the events that have taken place in Israel and Gaza over the past three days before narrowing his focus to the Yale community specifically. 

“Tonight, and for many nights to come, we will grieve, and as we do so, we hope that inspiration, respect and collaboration will be born,” Cohen said to attendees. 

After a moment of silence, Rubenstein tearfully addressed the crowd.

Rubenstein referred to both the Talmud — the primary text of Rabbinic Judaism — and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides in his speech, which mourned the loss of life in Israel. At the end of his remarks, he called the group to action.

“We can carry this moment in our heart. Remembering that no one can, and no one will, separate us from one another. No one can, and no one will, rob our ability to stand up for what we believe in and against those who would harm us,” Rubenstein said. “We are surrounded by people who love us fiercely, who believe in us, today and forever.”

Two Jewish students also gave remarks to the crowd: Roee Benya ’27 and Abe Baker-Butler ’25. 

Benya, who is from Israel, delivered a heartfelt tribute for a friend from home, named Yiftah Yabetz, who had died the day prior as a result of conflict. He addressed the difficulties of being far from many of his loved ones before turning to those present for support.

“I know many of us feel helpless here while family and friends suffer. We have an obligation today to see what is happening here clearly, to remember it and speak openly about it,” Benya said. “Hamas hides behind the narrative of ‘freedom fighters,’ but their actions speak for themselves. [My friend] did not just die, he was murdered intentionally … I am asking you to stand with me, to honor his memory, to stand with Israelis and against those who want to murder and imprison us.”

Following Benya, Baker-Butler shared similar sentiments of “disappointment, anger, shock and sadness.” He called on the “strong and diverse” community to uplift and support one another. Baker-Butler concluded his remarks with historical references to previous persecution of Jews and a call to stand with Israel. 

Following the speeches, Magevet led the crowd in song, including the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva. Prayers including the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer of bereavement, concluded the formal vigil. 

After Cohen’s closing remarks, an overwhelming majority of vigil attendees stayed. Unprompted and informally, the crowd opened up into a massive circle — filling the elevated walkway outside of Sterling Memorial — and swayed around the Women’s Table in song. Attendees tearfully embraced one another before dispersing. Many went to the Slifka Center to continue their reflection.

Politicians and Jewish community leaders express support for Israel 

More than 200 people also gathered at the Woodbridge, Conn., Jewish Community Center in a packed conference hall overflowing into the hallways. 

“People were terrified, incredibly sad, very frustrated, and wanted to … come together to mourn, to pray and to find out what they can do to support Israel today and in the future,” Gayle Slossberg, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, said to the News. “Everyone knows somebody mourning someone … and it’s very personal to the Jewish communities across this country.”

Attendees prayed for those hurt by the war, sang songs and shared their personal reactions to the violence.

Evan Wyner was visiting his family in Israel when Hamas attacked. On Saturday, he told the crowd, the sky was cloudy and he could hear a constant rumbling sound, which he first thought was a thunderstorm. When an air raid alert sounded, he rushed to hide in a bomb shelter with his family. The next day, Wyner’s son borrowed clean clothes, threw some food in his backpack and left the house to join the Israel Defense Forces.

“It is quite something to see your son head to the war without hesitation,” Wyner said with tears in his eyes. 

Gov. Lamont said he came to the event from West Hartford, where he had offered his support to the Jewish community before hundreds rallying in support of Israel.

Sen. Blumenthal also spoke at the gathering and expressed gratitude at the ability of a Jewish community to unite in what he called “a critical moment” in history. 

“We [in the United States] will do whatever it takes [to support Israel],” Blumenthal said. “I will put together a package of additional aid to Israel, including Iron Dome interceptors, a precision munition that is needed for Israeli aircraft, the artillery… whatever Israel needs to win a fight against evil and against this attack.” 

Mayor Elicker said that he came to the event to express his support for the Jewish community at a very difficult time. Speaking to the News, he denounced the messaging of the pro-Palestine protest that was held earlier Monday at City Hall and said that the city government would support “our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Elicker said that New Haven police had increased their presence around synagogues at the request of local rabbis. 

Slossberg urged community members to stay safe and said that every time “something happens in Israel,” hate crimes against the Jewish community in the United States spike. 

While there are Yale police cars stationed outside both Yale’s Slifka Center and Chabad at Yale, there has been “no credible threat” to the Yale community, Anthony Campbell — Chief of the Yale Police Department — told the News at the vigil.

“Our presence here is to support every student here to mourn,” Campbell said. 

The Slifka Center remains open to students looking for reflection and support surrounding these events.

Correction, Oct. 10: An earlier version of this story including a spelling error in one reference to a source’s name; it has since been amended. The story has also been updated with a timeline of when Israel formally declared war against Hamas to specify that the listed casualty count includes pre-war deaths.

Update, Oct. 10: The article has been updated to include the name of Roee Benya’s friend, Yiftah Yabetz. 

Update, Oct. 12: The cover photo of the article was updated to better capture the crowd.

Kaitlyn Pohly is a sophomore in Silliman College. She serves as the Student Life Reporter for the University Desk and previously reported on Student Policy and Affairs. Originally from New York City, Kaitlyn is a History major. Outside of the classroom and the newsroom, Kaitlyn dances with YaleDancers.
Yurii Stasiuk covers City Hall and State Politics for the News. Originally from Kalush, Ukraine, he is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College majoring in History and Political Science.