Interfaith Vigil Mourns Lives Lost in Israel and Palestine

The vigil, organized by the Multicultural Resource Center and Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, included speakers from a diversity of religious backgrounds and a candle-lit walk to the war memorial.

Interfaith Vigil Mourns Lives Lost in Israel and Palestine
The vigil began with a series of speakers at Chapin Chapel before a walk to the war memorial. Photo courtesy of Amherst College.

Students, faculty, and other members of the college community gathered together in Chapin Chapel in the early evening of Wednesday, Nov. 16. to participate in a vigil to mourn the lives lost in Israel and Palestine. The vigil included speeches, a musical performance, meditation, and prayers from an array of speakers.

Following the vigil, attendees came together to walk to the top of Memorial Hill, illuminating the First-Year Quad with candles. As the sun set over the Holyoke Range, attendees gathered around the war memorial to listen to concluding prayers and reflections.

The vigil was organized by Jane Kungu, assistant director of the Multicultural Resource Center, and Harrison Blum, director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.

“Our goal was to create a space to grieve for all lives lost in the Middle East [and] to support every attendee in feeling safe and welcomed amidst different allegiances or different types of grief,” Blum said. “This is a really horrific and unfolding situation. So my goal was never to have people feel resolution, or happiness. But to feel authentic, to feel heartful … and to be together in that.”

Though the college has seen a series of speakers on the issue and a student walkout in support of Palestine, this was the first event focused exclusively on mourning the lost lives.

“I chose to attend the vigil just because I feel I’ve really been in need of a place of mourning. I’ve been feeling a lot of grief,” Amelia Cogan ’26 said. “I was just sort of looking for a place of like, ‘Let’s all feel this together.’ And to me, that was very moving.”

The vigil included speakers from many backgrounds and beliefs, including John Bailes, the college’s Buddhist chaplain; Omar Dar, the college’s Muslim chaplain; and Rabbi Benjamin Weiner of the Jewish Community of Amherst, who was asked to speak to represent the voice of the Jewish community since the college does not currently have a rabbi.

The diverse representation was a highlight for many participants. “The vigil provided me with a better perspective of both sides of the issue,” Sorelle Sussman ’26 said. “And as a member of Jewish community at Amherst I appreciated that there was a rabbi there. It made me feel more supported as a Jewish student.”

While a number of religious leaders spoke, there was only one student speaker, Zakaria Shenwari ’25, who is vice president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA).

Shenwari suggested that the lack of student speakers contradicted representation being one of the events’ key goals.

“There should have been, I think, a Jewish student speaker,” he said.

Initially, Shenwari said, many Muslim students, including himself, hesitated to attend the vigil.

“There was a question of why this hasn’t taken place before for Palestinians who have been under such a level of killing throughout the years,” Shenwari said.

However, through the guidance of their chaplain, Shenwari and a number of other Muslim students decided to attend the vigil.

“We do care about life,” he said. “That’s why we [had] to attend.”

After the speeches, attendees had the opportunity to reflect during a meditation led by Bailes.

“I certainly went in feeling very, agitated, and sad. And to be able to slow down and take a breath [during the guided meditation] was great,” Cogan said.

During another moment of reflection, Kungu requested that participants use the yellow sheets of paper on their chairs to voice any hopes, prayers, and emotions.

Following the vigil, participants walked from Chapin Chapel to Memorial Hill, where Weiner and Dar led Jewish and Muslim prayers before attendees concluded by placing yellow notes in vases and candles on the war memorial.

As members reflected on the vigil, many acknowledged that this event was a step in the right direction. However, some students suggested that the college community has an ongoing responsibility to foster conversation and provide spaces to grieve.

“I think there needs to be space for more discussion — really open and honest discussion,” Cogan said.