Somber vigil

The Tuesday gathering on College Green offered the Penn community a chance to grieve, pray, and offer comfort in the wake of the deadly attacks on Israel.

university chaplain embraces hillel rabbi
University Chaplain Chaz Howard embraces Rabbi Gabe Greenberg at a vigil in support of the Israeli community held Oct. 10 at the LOVE sculpture.

In the wake of last weekend’s unprecedented attacks on Israel, hundreds of Penn students, faculty, staff, and others gathered Tuesday before the LOVE statue on College Green to mourn the victims and pray for the safe return of hostages. The gathering, organized by Penn Hillel, comes just days after Hamas fighters launched one of the deadliest assaults on Israel in 50 years.

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, executive director at Penn Hillel, told the crowd he wished they didn’t have to be there. Speaking to the students in the audience he offered words of solace and hope.

University Chaplain Charles “Chaz” Howard said he understood how difficult these times were. “I hope you know that you’re loved and there are a lot of others who are present with you right now. You are not alone,” said Howard.

As a trained chaplain, Howard said he had learned that the best approach in tough times is to have a ministry of presence.

“It’s rarely the words that bring comfort, it’s being there. And right now, you’re being there. Being here, standing with each other. You’re standing with folks on the other side of the planet who are scared or hurt or upset and you are bringing the best thing that we can bring from here right now and that’s presence,” he said.

Those in attendance included several administrators: President Liz Magill, Dean Vijay Kumar of Penn Engineering, and Dean Sally Bachman of the School of Social Policy & Practice, as well as Vice President for Public Safety Kathleen Shields Anderson.

“We are here to show our support” said Greenberg, “for Israel, for the Israeli people, for our Israeli and Israeli American students, staff, faculty in the Penn community, and for the Jewish community worldwide, who are experiencing fear, anger, sadness, confusion, mourning, grief and a host of other emotions at this moment.”

Several students also spoke, among them third-years Noah Rubin and Maya Harpaz, second-year students Sara Greenberg and Elan Goldman, and Talya Yoshpe, a first-year MBA student at the Wharton School.

Rubin, an Israeli American from Boca Raton, Florida, described the “emotional rollercoaster” he’d experienced since the news of the war broke. He said, “This vigil, our community’s responses and responses from communities around the world give me some glimmer of hope ... This gathering gives me strength.”

After Goldman, a physics major from Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, led a prayer for the return of hostages, in both English and Hebrew, Rabbi Greenberg then led the participants in the Mourner’s Kaddish.

The vigil concluded with the singing of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. “The word ‘Hatikvah’ means ‘The Hope,’” said Rabbi Greenberg.

“Let this serve,” he said, “as a prayer that we can move towards a place of having hope yet again.”

Earlier that day, the University released a statement on the assault on Israel by Hamas and support for the Penn community.