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On the holiest day of the Jewish calendar yesterday, half a world away from renewed violence in Israel, Jews from Harvard and Cambridge gathered in the Yard to pray for peace in the Middle East.
More than 200 people gathered on the steps of Widener Library on the chilly afternoon of Yom Kippur.
Bernard Steinberg, the executive director of Harvard Hillel, began the vigil by reading a statement, co-signed by the rabbis and student leaders of four Harvard prayer communities, that mourned the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives.
The statement also supported the right of Israel to act in "reasonable self-defense" and urged prayers for the safe return of three Israeli soldiers captured Saturday by Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon.
Rabbi Shai A. Held '94 recited Psalm 121 in Hebrew, and Tova A. Serkin '02, who is also a Crimson editor, recited it in English.
Rabbi Robert D. Klapper read Psalm 130 in Hebrew followed by Rachel L. Brown '01 in English.
Traditionally, Jewish communities recite these psalms during times of crisis.
Silent meditation, a reading of an excerpt from Psalm 122 and a concluding prayer for the state of Israel followed.
Since Sept. 28, almost 90 people, most of them Palestinians, have died in fighting throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. About 2,000 people have been injured.
Palestinian leaders say that a visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon precipitated the clashes, but Israel's government has alleged that the forces of Yassir Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority, used the visit as a pretext to attack Israelis and Jews.
The situation was exacerbated when Hezbollah guerrillas captured the three Israeli soldiers and when Palestinian youths looted the town of Nablus, killing an Israeli police officer and burning a site considered to be the tomb of Joseph, a sacred place for many Jews.
Saturday, the killing and bludgeoning of a Palestinian man in Ramallah incited a fresh wave of violence in that town.
President Clinton is currently attempting to organize an emergency peace summit between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. (Please see Associated Press story, page A-2).
Organizers of yesterday's vigil said that they were gratified to be able to quickly coordinate a solidarity event involving the four major strands of Judaism at Harvard, given the potential for disagreement over political goals.
"We're taking every precaution not to make this political," said Klapper, a rabbi to the Orthodox prayer community.
"People who gathered here represent a wide spectrum of religious political views," said Michael Rosenberg '01, the chair of Hillel. "We all share a desire to see prisoners of war returned and to mourn the loss of lives."
"This community felt a need to express its solidarity with Israel publicly, not just at services, and Israel's right to defend itself," Held said.
Brown, who heads the Reform community at Harvard, said she thought it was important that the Jewish community show unity.
"We encourage American support for Israel," she said. "Hopefully, Israelis will hear about this and know that the American Jewry will not abandon them."
The vigil was not co-sponsored by any other religious group on campus.
Rita Hamad '03, treasurer of the Harvard-Radcliffe Society for Arab Students, said that her organization abstained from co-sponsorship because "both groups deserve to be mourned, but not at the same time. That might not be appropriate, but we are all praying for peace."
The group will hold its own service today at 5 p.m. on the steps of Memorial Church.
"Everyone has the right to mourn their own losses in their own way," Hamad said. "It's their way to express their sorrow."
Hamad said she hoped that the crisis would not affect Arab-Jewish relations at Harvard. If Harvard students cannot sort out their differences, she said, it is impossible to expect Arabs and Jews in the midst of the crisis to do so.
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