Community members mourn lives lost in Israel

Over 300 students, staff, faculty and community members gathered at Meyer Green Sunday evening to honor the lives lost in Israel this weekend, during a candlelight vigil held by Stanford Israel Association (SIA) and Hillel.

“I became immediately very frightened,” said SIA co-president Andrei Mandelshtam ’25, who stayed awake until the early morning hours after calling his relatives in Israel following news of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian militant organization. “When I woke up the next morning at 10 a.m., things were much worse. I’m always just messaging everyone I know and hoping that all of this terror would end.”

Hamas’s attack was launched on the final day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, with missiles fired at targets throughout south and central Israel and accompanying ground strikes by Hamas militants in the south.

AP News reported that over 1,500 people were killed: 900 in Israel and nearly 700 in Gaza, according to authorities from each area. Over 150 people are reported to have been taken captive from Israel and held in Gaza as hostages in retaliation for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. 

State senator Josh Becker MBA ’98 J.D. ’99, who is the vice-chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus and represents the Stanford area, said he prayed for a safe return for all abducted Israelis. 

The organizers of the vigil passed out Israeli flags, held a moment of silence and invited community members to light candles. They projected a compilation of videos with clips from the attacks and media coverage from largely pro-Israel organizations. 

Nourya Cohen ’24 said that some of the videos would “haunt [her] forever.” 

Right after receiving news of the attacks Friday night, SIA co-president Hannah Levin ’25 said she called one of her relatives, who survived the Holocaust during World War II and now lives in Israel, to check on her safety. 

“I’m not going to forget what she said, ‘Hannah, I think a war is coming,’” Levin said. “For someone to have survived those things and to say this, that’s very scary.”

The vigil’s intentions were apolitical and meant to mourn the Israelis who were murdered and kidnapped in the Hamas attacks over the weekend, Levin said. 

“This is entirely a human issue,” Levin said. “Do not sponsor violence of any kind. It doesn’t matter for whatever reason. Killing of any kind is never alright. Never.”

When Mandelshtam messaged his cousin who lives near Tel Aviv after the attack and did not receive a response until 30 minutes later, he said that the half hour was “one of the most stressed-out moments of [his] life.” 

“I’m truly grateful that [my cousin] is okay but I know that many others are not,” Mandelshtam said. “The vigil tonight has been for them and I feel the pain and loss of every Israeli, every single person that has been unjustly captured, every single rape, torture, murder and abduction that has happened throughout this traumatic event.”

Dmitri Skvortsov ’25, an SIA board member, said he believes violence should never be justified. 

“It’s just devastating to me to see how people on social media can just justify violence by calling this thing ‘decolonization,’ but you should never justify terrorist attacks because they’re all the same,” Skvortsov said. “It’s all about violence. It’s all about making people scared, making people feel threatened and there is no justification for that.”

Since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has imposed a restrictive blockade on the region’s imports and emigration. Israel bombed the Palestinian enclave of Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’s attack on Israeli towns, the deadliest incursion in 50 years.

“I feel like it’s very hard for some people to relate in terms of like, ‘What’s the scale of this? You know, Israel has bombs all the time. How is this different?’” Levin said. “This is 9/11 in Israel.” 

According to student organizers, planning for the candlelight vigil began that afternoon — including distributing news of the event on social media. Zach Weinstein, a Jewish student at San Francisco State, said he drove down from San Francisco to attend after learning about the vigil through Instagram. 

Weinstein, with an Israeli flag draped over his back, shared a quote from his rabbi and encouraged attendees of the vigil to educate those around them on Israel and Jewish history. “Prayers do not change things. Prayers change people and people change things,” Weinstein said. 

Rabbi Jessica Kirschner from Hillel thanked the organizers and attendees for showing “solidarity here as a Stanford community,” which she said was important “to know that we are not alone. Not alone as Israelis. Not alone as Jews. Not alone as Stanford students.”

Kirschner said that while many attendees “carry Israel in [their] pockets, it is important to take breaks and … there are resources available at Hillel and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.” 

“We are stronger when we stand together,” Kirschner said. “We are here for all of you and all of us are here for each other.”