Jewish students and Jewish organizations across Grounds, including the Brody Jewish Center and Chabad, organized a balloon installation on the South Lawn Thursday to honor over 200 hostages in Gaza. The installation featured red balloons tied to flyers on the ground which displayed the photo and name of each hostage.
In early October, Hamas — the militant Islamist group that has controlled Gaza since 2006 — launched a surprise attack on Israel. Nearly a month into the war, at least 1,400 people have been killed in Israel and over 9,000 people have been killed in Gaza. According to the Israeli government, there are over 240 hostages being held in Gaza, at least 33 of whom are children.
The installation was arranged by Jewish students, the Brody Jewish Center, Chabad and the larger Jewish community in Charlottesville. Lauren Flum, vice chair of the Brody Jewish Center’s Advisory Board and fourth-year College student, said Jewish students wanted to show that this is an issue that is important to everybody.
“There are over 220 hostages and they should come home and they need to come home,” Flum said. “We wanted to show the University that this is something that we deeply care about.”
Hundreds of students passed the installation Thursday walking to class, with dozens of students stopping to look closer and discuss with other Jewish students.
Fourth-year Engineering student Ahava Freeman said though the political aspect of the situation is important, anyone connected to the Jewish or Palestinian community should be thinking about the humanity of the situation.
“These are real people with real families who are being affected,” Freeman said. “It's not just this distant thing going on across the world.”
Freeman said that the conflict is complicated and requires context on the issue and overall an emphasis on humanity.
“There's a really fine line between advocating for Palestinians and for their human rights versus being anti-Semitic … [in] a conflict that is so multifaceted and can't be boiled down to one person's fault,” Freeman said.
Installations honoring hostages are occurring across the country and in Israel, with many in the form of a Shabbat table, where ritual items are placed upon as part of the Shabbat tradition. Shabbat table installations are lined with over 200 empty chairs representing the hostages. Flum said Jewish students originally wanted to do a similar Shabbat table but did the balloon installation instead due to logistics.
Third-year College student Chloe Levine said Jewish student organizers felt the balloons were a simple and meaningful way to bring awareness to what is occurring in Israel.
“We need to be thinking of them and praying for them every day,” Levine said.
Jewish students have hosted several events and demonstrations since the war began, including a candle vigil Oct. 11 and a fundraiser for American Friends of Magen David Adom, a charity for Israel’s disaster relief, ambulance and blood services.
The Brody Jewish Center and Chabad both previously released statements addressing the Israel-Hamas war. The Jewish community also wrote an editorial for The Cavalier Daily, in which they called Hamas a terrorist organization and noted the widespread suffering in the region.
The display was on the South Lawn until 5 p.m.