Familiar songs blasting from a speaker in Schenley Plaza signaled the support of 125 local college students for the Jewish state.
As “Hatikva” and Naomi Shermer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” played, the young adults — many sporting Israeli flags draped over their University of Pittsburgh gear — swayed, hugged and sang along.
Eitan Weinkle, a senior at Pitt and an organizer of the Oct. 9 event, told the Chronicle that despite feelings of isolation, loneliness or uncertainty, the Jewish community must congregate and “fight the hate.”
“We can’t let it beat us,” he said.
Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israel has left more than 900 Israelis dead and 2,400 wounded.
Weinkle, the president of Student Coalition for Israel at Pitt, said that following Saturday’s horror he heard from a friend in the Israeli army who was “presumably on his way into Gaza.”
That conversation, and the ensuing days, awakened Weinkle to the terror befalling Israel.
“This one hit different,” he said. “This is the kind of hate that makes me create an exit plan when I go into any synagogue. This isn’t politics. It’s nothing other than terrorism.”
Sharon Basch, an Israeli-American and president of the Jewish Law Students Association at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said the program in Oakland was an essential public demonstration.
“Especially on campuses around the United States of America, Jewish students are scared. They’re intimidated, and events like this don’t necessarily lead students to stand up and fight, but to hide because they are afraid of backlash, afraid of being attacked, which is common on campuses. Standing out here shows to not only each other that we’re here and we support each other, but to the rest of the population and the rest of the world that we’re not willing to back down when people threaten us,” she said.
Ilan Gordon, a junior at Pitt and fellow event organizer, said that several students wanted to delay Monday’s gathering.
“People thought it was too soon,” he said.
Gordon said he rejected that idea and pushed ahead with the program, which was sponsored by both Chabad on Campus and Hillel JUC.
Cloaked in a large Israeli flag, Gordon returned to the stretched circle of students on Schenley Plaza. For nearly an hour, the group recited psalms, sang, embraced and listened to words of encouragement from leaders of both Jewish campus groups.
“We will stand together in solidarity,” Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein, of Chabad at Pitt, said. Efrat Mishani, a Jewish agency Israel fellow to Hillel JUC, encouraged a positive outlook.
Hours after the event, Mishani continued engaging with students, offering hugs and reminding young adults of their inherent power.
“As someone who served in the army, there is nothing more important than hope,” she told the Chronicle. “The Jewish people possess a magic that I can’t explain; it gives you the strength to do what you can do.”
Mishani, 28, moved to Pittsburgh last year after completing her bachelor’s in political science and communications and a master’s in political science, all at Tel Aviv University. During her time in the IDF, she served as an officer in the military police.
The challenge of military service is offset by support, she explained.
“It’s not easy being a soldier,” she said. “You become a soldier at 18, and you do it out of pure love for your country. When you see those kids supporting us you realize it’s not only my needs and my wants but that you are doing something bigger. It’s hard, and I’m not saying that it’s not, but you have to grab that hope from somewhere.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.