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“We’re scared but resilient”: War overseas heightens UNF Jewish community’s fears

When Jacksonville and the University of North Florida’s Jewish community members gathered Monday night for a vigil, the mood was solemn. Yet, student leadership at the Jewish Student Union emphasized that though the community is still mourning the attacks overseas, they remain full of resilience and strength. 

“We come together to support one another and to gain strength from one another,” Rabbi Shmuli Novack, the founder of the Chabad of Southside, told the assembled crowd at the vigil. 

Because the Jewish community was observing Shabbat—the Jewish day of rest from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday—many students had no idea Israel was attacked until Sunday, explained Ezeen Anilah-Hall, the Jewish Student Union’s vice president.

Anilah-Hall said they have family in southern Israel affected by the war. With many of her cousins called up to the reserves, they haven’t been able to get in contact with them. 

That story is echoed across the university and Jacksonville communities, with many Jewish students connected to Israel by family and friends. 

“I know that people were scared as well for their family and especially for how it will regurgitate onto the Jewish community in Jacksonville,” Anilah-Hall said. “Anytime anything happens in Israel, there’s always antisemitism spikes everywhere, including here.”

The U.S. already sees the impacts of the Israel-Palestine war that began five days ago. Extremists, antisemites and conspiracy theorists are “flocking to online spaces” to cheer for Hamas, the Anti-Defamation League said

Even in the first 18 hours since the conflict began, hateful rhetoric against the Jewish community and Israel “spiked significantly,” the organization published on Saturday. 

The day before the attack, there were 59 Telegram messages from extremists making threats and calls for violence against Jews, Israelis and Zionists, according to the ADL. However, that number surged by approximately 488% in the first 18 hours, with a total of 347 Telegram messages about the same topics, they reported.

Members of the Jewish community wore the Israel flag on their shoulders at Monday night’s vigil. (Photo courtesy of the Chabad of UNF)

Because the future is unknown, the path forward for the Jewish community now is a waiting game. Though everyone will be waiting for news about what’s happening, Anilah-Hall said the entire community is more on edge than usual.

“We’re scared but resilient,” they said. 

For students feeling scared or wanting to talk, Anilah-Hall said that the Jewish Student Union is always open to chat. 

“It’s very difficult to talk to other people about it, especially if they’re not Jewish and they wouldn’t understand it,” they said. 

Since it began on Saturday, there have been at least 2,200 lives lost on both sides, and the war is expected to escalate, the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning. 

While the vigil happened on Monday, there was a pro-Palestine rally in front of the Duval County Courthouse at the same time. 

Stay with Spinnaker as we continue to cover the Israel-Hamas war’s impact on the UNF and Jacksonville community.

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For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Carter Mudgett, Reporter
Carter Mudgett is a University of North Florida student majoring in multimedia journalism. He was Spinnaker's editor-in-chief from August 2021 to December 2023. Carter led Spinnaker to be awarded a 2023 Online Pacemaker Award, and most recently placed second in the Society of Professional Journalists's Sunshine State Awards for "Best Coverage of LGBT Issues" in the college category. Backed by a passion for creative storytelling and accurate reporting, Carter typically covers education, gender and race issues.

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