Jewish students gathered to pray for unity outside of the Memorial Union in Tempe on Thursday and called on other universities to do the same.
Students from Chabad at ASU publicly read a Shema prayer and put on tefillin. Tefillin is a set of black leather boxes that contain verses from the Torah. The boxes are connected by leather straps, which are worn by Jewish men to show their faith. Students also sang Hebrew songs like "Oseh Shalom" and "Am Yisrael Chai," both of which are sung to affirm Jewish unity and pray for those in need.
Putting on tefillin is typically performed in synagogues or at home, but Chabad student leaders wanted to organize the ceremony in public to help Jewish students feel supported. Aleeza Feffer, a sophomore studying kinesiology, said that putting on tefillin and praying in public serves as another positive way for Jewish students to feel connected to Israel.
"Walking around campus, I feel more comfortable if I see someone else wearing a Star of David necklace or if I see someone else that says they're Jewish and standing up for that because it can feel lonely on campus," Feffer said.
Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel, the founding executive director of Chabad at ASU, said that putting on tefillin as a group aimed to bring the ASU Jewish community together in prayer.
"The idea is coming together, praying for Israel, and praying for world peace and for goodness for everyone and to be unified," he said.
Noam Yakar, a junior studying mathematics and computer science involved in organizing the prayer event, said the goal of the small and religious public event was to encourage Jewish students to be proud of their identity.
"It's important to show people that we're proud of who we are regardless of what's going on," Yakar said. "It’s showing other Jews that, 'Hey, I can be vocal about my Judaism and it doesn't matter what's going on in the world. I can be who I am.'"
Members of Chabad also called on Jewish students at three other universities – California State University-Northridge, University of Illinois and the University of Kansas – to publicly put on tefillin on their campuses as part of its newly launched Tefillin Together initiative.
Malka Abelev, an ASU alumna who works at Chabad, said that this space for unity is important to combat feelings of isolation in ASU's Jewish community.
"To have a place on a huge campus where we can gather and be in connection with our roots is a special, incredible thing, but especially in a time where we feel so alone to know that we’re not and we’re a family," Abelev said.
For Dylan Marks, a freshman studying finance, Jewish students coming together in front of the Memorial Union to pray for unity represents something much greater than just ASU.
"Being able to go to the center of campus and wrap tefillin is one of the most holy things you can do," Marks said. "It is important that we do because I had someone say to me, the last time we were quiet, bad things happened. So that's why we have to be loud."
Yakar said that the rising antisemitism on other college campuses across the country inspired the creation of an event to show solidarity with Jewish students. For instance, Cornell canceled classes on Nov. 3 after a student was charged with making antisemitic threats, and a professor at Harvard reportedly discriminated against Jewish students in class.
Although ASU put out a statement in support of Israel, this trend still worries Jewish students on campus according to Yoni Shabtay, a freshman studying business management, and the event was a way for many students to find a sense of needed community.
"With everything that’s going on, we wanted to show the world that no matter how much hate there is, we’re going to show them that we’re not scared and we’re here to shine our light," Shabtay said.
Edited by Sadie Buggle, Shane Brennan and Grace Copperthite.