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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

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Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

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Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
Pitt track and field athlete inducted into Delaware Sports Museum & Hall of Fame
By Grace McNally, Staff Writer • June 13, 2024
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

‘Bring them home’: Vigil marks 100 days since conflict in Gaza, calls for release of Israeli hostages

Vigil+attendees+hold+signs+while+listening+to+speakers+during+the+%E2%80%9CBring+Them+Home%E2%80%9D+vigil+on+Monday+afternoon+on+the+WPU+Plaza.
Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
Vigil attendees hold signs while listening to speakers during the “Bring Them Home” vigil on Monday afternoon on the WPU Plaza.

Around 40 students and community members gathered outside of the William Pitt Union in solidarity with the hostages taken during Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. 

Chabad at Pitt organized the event, called the “Bring Them Home” vigil, which focused on bringing together Pitt’s Jewish community and raising awareness for the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza as Jan. 14 marked 100 days since Oct. 7. 

Vikki Kotlyar, vice president of Chabad at Pitt, touched on the more emotional side of the conflict and how the Jewish community’s response has impacted her. 

“I struggle to put into words the anger and sadness I feel,” Kotlyar said. “I’ve never been more proud to be Jewish.”

Matthew Garber, a junior law, criminal justice and society major and co-vice president of outreach at Chabad, spoke first. He had words of hope at the vigil. 

“Let this vigil be a testament to our resilience,” Garber said. “That even in the face of adversity, the Jewish people will stand strong.” 

Since the initial Hamas attack, when 240 people were taken hostage by Hamas and 1,200 were murdered, Israel said 25 of the hostages were killed and 132 remain in captivity. Almost 24,000 Gazans have been killed in the last 100 days primarily from Israeli airstrikes, with nearly 2 million displaced. 

“Bring Them Home” vigil attendees join arms and sing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, on Monday afternoon on the WPU Plaza. (Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor)

Junior Ilan Gordon, who serves as co-vice president of outreach for Chabad at Pitt, encouraged people to volunteer, citing his own experiences working in a soup kitchen in Israel over winter break. 

Gordon spoke to the crowd about the rise in antisemitism on college campuses. He named Students for Justice in Palestine specifically and called for their removal, while also noting that he believes Pitt’s administration could be doing much more to help Jewish students. Gordon said he believes groups like SJP have allegedly justified the Oct. 7 attacks.

“Those organizations should not be allowed on Pittsburgh’s campus and the fact that our University, deans [and] leaders are giving them a platform is completely … unacceptable,” Gordon said.

Garber echoed the same sentiments regarding SJP and Pitt’s response since Oct. 7.

“They should ban SJP,” said Garber. “As I think that resisting what we’re doing is terribly wrong of them.”

Garber later clarified his sentiment to ban SJP and said he believes SJP and affiliates create an “unhealthy environment on campus.”

In response to calls to ban the student organization, a spokesperson for SJP said they believe that human rights “should be applied equally and unconditionally.”

“The Students for Justice in Palestine at Pitt condemns all violence against civilians regardless of their political affiliations. Therefore, our organization condemns both the actions of Hamas and the Israeli government that have resulted in the loss of innocent lives.”

Following a few speeches during the vigil, Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein then led the group in a prayer along with more scripture readings. 

Rabbi Shmuli Rothstein leads a prayer during the “Bring Them Home” vigil on Monday afternoon on the WPU Plaza. (Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor)

First-year Ilay Dvir shared stories from living in Israel, talking about how he thought living under constant fear of a bomb threat or siren was normal. 

The organizers taped posters calling for the return of the hostages on the Union’s pillars. Before the event started, two University employees approached the organizers asking them to take down the posters. After organizers told the officials that the event would not last long, the Union workers left.

Midway through one of the speakers, an employee returned insisting the posters be brought down, but the organizers convinced the employee to let them finish the vigil. 

In response to the decision to try and remove the posters during the vigil, University spokesperson Jared Stoneseifer referred to the University’s policies. 

“The posting and chalking guidelines are clearly posted,” Stonesifer said. “Violations of these guidelines are addressed as appropriate.”

Matthew Garber, a junior criminal justice major, speaks to “Bring Them Home” vigil attendees on Monday afternoon on the WPU Plaza. (Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor)

Stonesifer also said the University is a “community where respectful and productive dialogue can exist and where compassion is nourished and promoted,” in regards to criticisms about its handling of antisemitism.

“We recognize that free, legally protected, and open expression can include ideas or speech that some may consider wrong,” Stonesifer said. “But in no way does this provide license for speech or behavior that is discriminatory, abusive, harassing, or harmful. As University leaders, we work intentionally to create a culture of support across our entire Pitt community, including to ensure the ready access of resources to those who need them.”

Stonesifer emphasized that Pitt does not tolerate any discrimination on campus. 

“Any act or report of discrimination, physical violence and/or threatening behavior is taken with the utmost seriousness, and investigated fully,” Stonesifer said.

Previously Pitt employees have also taken down Israeli missing person posters around the Quad, claiming they were in violation of signage policies.  

Junior students Matthew Garber and Ilan Gordon speak with a University employee about flags and posters taped to the William Pitt Union during the “Bring Them Home” vigil. (Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor)

Julie Paris, the mid-Atlantic regional director of StandWithUs, an international pro-Israel nonprofit organization, implored attendees to do what they can to combat the rise in antisemitism.

“We have also seen incredible bravery and leadership from students across the country,” Paris said. “We witnessed students reporting incidents and demanding change, organizing rallies and demonstrations, bringing in expert speakers, and using their own social media platforms to amplify voices.”

The last speaker Alon Leshem, business manager of the Student Coalition for Israel at Pitt, finished the vigil by highlighting what he said is the resilience of the Jewish community at Pitt and across the world. 

The vigil was followed by a gathering back at the Chabad house for food. Supporters also lit Yahrzeit candles at the Chabad house in mourning the civilians and soldiers who passed in the last 100 days since Oct. 7. 

“People want to feel a part of a community,” Rothstein said. “We [Chabad] are supporting the students and building a healthy community to feel a part of.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a clarification from Matthew Garber.

About the Contributor
Patrick Diana, Staff Writer