Jewish organizations at UCLA host rally to call for release of Israeli hostages
People gathering in Wilson Plaza to show support for Israel are pictured. The rally, which was co-hosted by UCLA organizations and the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, featured singing, prayers and speeches. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)
This post was updated Nov. 7 at 11:12 p.m.
Around 200 people gathered in Wilson Plaza on Tuesday to call for the release of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas exactly one month ago.
The event, which began at noon, was hosted by Bruins for Israel and Hillel at UCLA along with the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and several other organizations. It featured speakers, prayers led by rabbis, the singing of Israel’s national anthem, a march around campus back to Wilson Plaza and chants such as “Bring, bring our people back.”
According to the Associated Press, on Oct. 7, militant group and Palestinian political party Hamas attacked and took hostages from Israeli villages, continuing attacks on the region since then. In response, Israeli bombings and airstrikes, including a series of attacks on apartments in a Gaza refugee camp Oct. 31, as well as a ground invasion have killed thousands of Palestinian civilians, according to AP.
Fewer than 10 counterprotesters attended the event and shouted “Free Palestine.” Members of UCLA’s student affairs team attempted to separate protesters and counterprotesters.
Gabby, an organizer of the rally who was granted partial anonymity for safety reasons, said the rally was held to raise awareness about hostages taken by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack. She added that she felt it was important to share Israeli perspectives because multiple groups supporting Palestine have hosted rallies and protests in recent weeks.
Protest organizers also placed strollers and children’s shoes in Meyerhoff Park alongside posters with the faces and names of Israelis taken hostage. A Shabbat table with empty chairs was also set up in Wilson Plaza to represent those who will miss Shabbat dinners.
Gabby also said she has heard students expressing fears about antisemitism on campus.
“So many students expressed to me that they’ve been feeling scared to walk on campus, so to see their bravery to come out here today and show that they stand in solidarity with the hostages that have been taken really meant a lot to me,” she said.
Natalie Masachi, the president of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, said in a speech that she encourages attendees to think of Israelis who have died and pray for the return of hostages.
Bella Brannon, student president of Hillel at UCLA, said in a speech that she wants people to support anyone facing violence because of this conflict but added that she thinks some students’ actions seem to be endorsing terrorism. Brannon, a third-year public affairs student – who is also the editor in chief of Ha’Am, another UCLA Student Media publication – said she feels students and professors have equated what she believes is terrorism with Palestinian liberation.
Masachi, a third-year English student, also said that she thinks some events on campus supporting Palestine have been in support of violence that has occurred.
“I am here to call to action,” Masachi said. “We have to direct condemnation of the support for pro-terror and stand by the Jewish students on campus.”
While people are still hurting after the Oct. 7 attacks, some Jewish community members have also come together to pray and hope for the return of hostages, said Carly Sheinfeld, a member of the student board of Chabad at UCLA.
“That is why we fight for Israel, not only because we have nowhere else to go, but because we have no one else to be,” Sheinfeld said.
Mayim Bialik, a UCLA alumnus and actress, said in a speech at the rally that she encountered anti-Zionism while a student at UCLA, adding that she feels students today have a responsibility to advocate for the Israeli hostages.
Bialik, who starred on the television show “The Big Bang Theory,” also called upon students to mourn for both Israeli and Palestinian lives lost rather than engaging in political debate as others might.
“They use the competition of suffering to abdicate the responsibility to have a heart big enough to hold the suffering of the Palestinian people as well as the suffering of the Jewish people,” she said.
California State Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur, whose district includes Westwood and UCLA, said in a speech that he is actively providing support for the Jewish community in his district. He added that attending the rally was particularly important to him because his district, District 51, has one of the highest populations of Jewish people in any California assembly district.
Zbur also expressed disappointment in some of the slogans chanted at events on campus that have supported Palestine.
He added in his speech that the Jewish Caucus of the California legislature sent a letter to UC President Michael Drake to argue for more to be done on campuses to protect Jewish students. The letter was also sent to California State University Chancellor Mildred García.
The UC Office of the President did not respond in time to a request for comment.
Shana Adelpour, a fourth-year sociology student, said she attended the event because she believes Israel has a right to defend itself. She added that right before she came to the event, she saw someone tear down one of the signs around campus showing the hostages held by Hamas.
“Who I talk to nowadays, it’s very limited,” Adelpour said. “I’m just scared I’m going to get screamed at.”
Nicole Morovati, a third-year sociology student, said she attended the rally to stand in solidarity with members of her community and to bring awareness to current events in Israel. She added that she feels that this support is important because she thinks there has been a rise in antisemitism at colleges, including UCLA.
“I think showing support and being there for the Jewish community, and for Jewish students during this difficult time, is really important,” she said.
Bialik said in her speech that while the rally called for the return of hostages, it also displayed unity among the Jewish community.
“We are showing the UCLA community that the Jewish spirit is one that will continue to seek justice and pursue it for our people – for all people – because our hearts are big enough,” Bialik said.