Quick Take:

Community members, students and faculty from the UC Santa Cruz campus gathered Wednesday night to mourn the lives lost in Israel to attacks by militant group Hamas.

Hundreds of students, faculty and community members gathered on the UC Santa Cruz campus Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil to mourn the lives lost in Israel from attacks by militant group Hamas.

“I honestly didn’t think this was going to be this big,” said Benjamin Bakhaj, a third-year student, speaking to the crowd. “Seeing the turnout is amazing. It shows how great the community here is. It shows how much love there is for all the Jewish people on campus.”

In a surprise attack Saturday, Hamas broke through the border from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and killed hundreds of civilians, including people attending a music festival and people living in communities near the border. In retaliation, the Israeli government launched missiles into Gaza, killing hundreds of civilians; an Israeli invasion of Gaza could be next.

More than 2,000 people have been killed so far. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed an emergency unity war government with opposition members and vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas, raising concerns for ongoing devastating loss of life.

Outside of McHenry Library on the UCSC campus Wednesday night, more than 200 people gathered for more than an hour to light candles, share about the loss and express hope for the future. The event was organized by a committee of UCSC students with support from Santa Cruz Hillel.

Chancellor Cynthia Larive, Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer and Dean of Students Garrett Naiman were among the administrators who attended; the latter two are Jewish. Several speakers recounted experiencing a wide range of emotions since the attacks but expressed gratitude for the show of support at the vigil.

“This is the first time I felt support,” fourth-year student Alex Salkin, a Santa Cruz Hillel member and Leviathan Jewish Journal editor, told Lookout.

She told the crowd she has spent the past few days alternating between anger and helplessness, becoming “utterly and completely tired.”

“Our entire existence as people has been a constant fight and this can be so tiring,” she said. “I don’t know how this is going to end.”

She and other speakers held the microhone standing in front of a candle formation on the ground in the shape of the Star of David. The light of the candles flickered on the somber faces of the people immediately surrounding the star, an official symbol of Judaism. Many wore the Israeli flag wrapped around their backs. People sniffled and put their arms around friends.

  • Hundreds of people gathered in front McHenry Library at UCSC for a United for Peace event.
  • Candle-lighting kits.
  • Ilan Benjamin, distinguished professor of chemistry, lights a candle at the United for Peace event at UCSC.
  • Eetai Shwartz and Ben Bakhaj light candles during the United For Peace event on Wednesday night at UCSC.
  • Lighting candles in the shape of a Star of David during a United for Peace event at McHenry Library at UCSC.
  • Students embrace during Wednesday's United for Peace event at McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz.
  • Mourners at a United for Peace event at McHenry Library at UCSC.
  • A mourner during a United for Peace event at McHenry Library at UCSC.
  • Devorah Chein with the Rohr Chabad Student Center.
  • Candles in the shape of a Star of David during a United for Peace vigil at McHenry Library at UCSC.

Naiman, the dean of students, was the first to speak to the group. He said his heart was broken.

“I’m sitting in this constant film of heaviness,” he said, adding that he and other administrators are there for support.

He recounted how before he left his home for the vigil, his 4-year-old child asked him why he had to go back to work.

“I learned this evening just how difficult it is to explain to a 4-year-old what a vigil is,” he said, adding that among the many things he is thinking about are the children that lost their lives.

He’s also thinking about the pain and suffering that has been going on for a long time for so many. Naiman said that he told his child that too many people have become ancestors too soon for the wrong reasons.

“And when that happens, you get together in something called a vigil to be sad together, but to find strength in being in community,” he said. “And so that’s the conversation I had with my child right before coming over here tonight.”

Fourth-year Nathaniel Aaron Wolff said that in spite of all his sadness, he feels grateful that he’s safe and his loved ones are safe. He said the vigil is a place for the community to grieve.

“This is where we can come together as a community and see for ourselves, we’re all still here,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere, no matter what happens to us.”

He added that although he felt a sense of sadness and terror among people at the vigil, he also felt hope.

“This is hope — everybody being here today and keeping their lives going and saying, ‘The fallen are only as far away as we let them be if we keep them in our hearts,’” he said. “And if we continue to honor them like this, but also continue to learn and grow and do our part in helping the world.”

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