Lexie Niskanen, a college student, stood at the front of the gathering and urged people to check on one another.
“There’s a lot of things we can do as students and as a community in these negative times. First, we can check in on each other and make sure we are not alone,” she said. “Just a simple text can mean the world during a time where hate is always present.”
Niskanen, Israel chair of the Hillel Milwaukee Student Board, spoke at this vigil on Oct. 17 on the patio outside of the Hillel building on Milwaukee’s east side. The vigil, sponsored by Hillel Milwaukee and the Jewish Student Union of Marquette University, took place after the horrific terrorist attacks against ordinary Israelis on Oct. 7.
Niskanen told the dozens of attendees about resources at the event, including a hate and bias report form, a table that was set up to write letters to Israeli soldiers, and a QR code to donate to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Fund (see p. 8 for the code and fund information).
Rabbi Joshua Herman, executive director of Hillel Milwaukee, noted that there were Palestinian advocates on campus who appeared to be celebrating the terror attacks.
“The world has already decided to move on from the vicious attack on Oct. 7,” he said in his remarks. “They are again drawing these false moral equivalences between the atrocities from Hamas and the innocent Palestinians that lose their lives because they’re being used as human shields ….”
“But we will maintain the moral high ground, I hope. We’ll seek to mourn each innocent life that is lost, Israeli or Palestinian, just as we mourn the death of the innocent young boy murdered in Chicago,” he said, “because they may have killed our human beings, but they will not kill our humanity.” (On Chicago death, see p. 11)
Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, who freshly arrived from a trip to Washington, D.C. to advocate for Israel, told the students that “you’re not alone.”
“We’re at your side,” she said, noting how hard it has been “for every person who cares about justice, for every person who cares about Israel, for every Jew who has felt vulnerable – the false equivalency on campuses, and the fight that you have had to do is so much harder.”
Heni Bizawi, Hillel Israel fellow, spent much of the vigil standing close with Hillel Milwaukee student leaders, but did step to the front for a couple minutes. She noted how “this time is different,” because it is so common to know someone directly impacted, for Israelis and even for American Jews.
“Thank you for being here,” said Bizawi, who was clearly moved. “It means a lot.”
Student speakers honored those killed or abducted. Photos were projected onto a Hillel Milwaukee outdoor wall, the images of happy, smiling Israelis making the truth of what happened even more inconceivable. The mourners kaddish was recited.
This was a vigil marked by both pain for the innocent people killed or abducted and for the challenges faced by Jews everywhere today. Students were all too aware that some have made excuses for the horrific, Hamas-led attacks against ordinary people who live near Gaza in Israel.
“There are a lot of groups that believe the murders and the murdering of innocent civilians are justified, that the beheadings of babies and families being burned in their homes are okay and heroic. It is not,” Niskanen said.
“There is no justification in the murder of innocent people, Jewish or not.”