Jewish KU students, staff gather for Shabbat in solidarity with pro-Palestine movement

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More than two dozen Jewish KU students, faculty, staff and community members gathered Friday evening for a special Shabbat service with a message: Not all Jewish people are Zionists. 

Maya Griswold, a KU staff member, said she never felt unsafe by the presence of the pro-Palestine protesters on campus as a Jewish person. 

“The narrative and dialogue you are seeing about Jewish people doesn’t speak for all of us,” Griswold said.

More than 100 pro-Palestine KU students and faculty members — many with KU Students for Justice in Palestine — set up an encampment on the lawn in front of Fraser Hall on Wednesday, and protesters marched all over campus and to the chancellor’s office Thursday. The protests are part of a movement on college campuses across the country. 

A group of pro-Israel protesters showed up and had a presence across the street for much of the day Wednesday. A few of the protesters at the pro-Palestine encampment held signs or wore T-shirts with messages such as “Another Jew for a free Palestine” and “Jews say cease fire now.” 

Griswold said it’s been hard for a lot of Jewish people who feel very isolated, and she personally has been pushed out of her Jewish community for her views. 

“I would say that my kind of Jewish is the Judaism that taught me Pikuach nefesh, to protect every life,” Griswold said. “And it’s because of my Judaism and my Jewish values that I stand with the Palestinian people as that is what this community and these texts have taught me.” 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Maya Griswold plays a song during the Shabbat service.

Griswold said she loves leading Shabbat services, and she’s missed it. For the last several months, she has felt like she hasn’t “been able to be Jewish.” 

“I was finally able to find my community again that holds the Jewish values that I’ve been taught my whole life,” Griswold said. 

The group sang a song, “Lo Yisa Goy,” which Griswold said she felt was pertinent because it’s a song that tells us that we shall not raise swords against each other.

“We are here to create community, to find peace, and to not raise swords against each other,” Griswold said. 

KU freshman MR asked not to share his full name because of concerns that he might face antisemitism from Zionist students. 

He said the pro-Palestine protests made him feel liberated. 

“There’s a sense of community there, and they do their absolute best to make sure that they are valuing the opinions and the feelings and the emotions and the state of the Jewish students and members of the encampment, to make sure that we feel heard and that we feel safe,” he said. “And I’ve never been in a community that’s done that.”

He said he’d noticed more tension on campus, but he thinks pro-Palestine people now feel more comfortable expressing their opinions. 

“Students at KU, faculty at KU — we’re not going to stand for what’s currently happening. And from tonight, we want people to know that Jewish people aren’t going to stand for it,” MR said. “Recently a lot of the Jewish presence on campus that has been talking about Palestine — it’s been from a Zionist perspective, and we want people to know that that’s not the only perspective.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times

Sae, a graduate student in KU’s Indigenous Studies program, said the group wants to counter the narrative that all Jewish people are against Palestine. Until the past several months, people weren’t really talking about Israel and Palestine, he said. 

“​​The only time that I’ve ever felt like people were being discriminatory against me for being Jewish or trying to silence me on those grounds was from Zionist Jewish people and Zionist people in general here on campus,” Sae said. 

MR and Sae both said they agree with the pro-Palestine protesters’ demands: That the university divest any financial ties with Israeli government and military interests; that KU disclose those ties; that KU refuse to accept grants from companies that contract with the U.S. Department of Defense or Armed Forces; and that the university grant amnesty to the protesters and protect their First Amendment rights.

The group at the Shabbat service is not affiliated with KU Students for Justice in Palestine, though there were some members of SJP there acting as independent allies, Sae said. 

MR said he thinks the next step for the movement is to start a community of anti-Zionist Jewish students. 

Sae said he actually wanted to start a local group of Jewish Voice for Peace a few months ago, but “It’s a very isolating experience to be an anti-Zionist Jew here, and so I could not find enough people,” he said. 

“I feel very fortunate that we had a lot of people show up here, and so I’m really hoping that at the very least, like next semester maybe, we can organize a JVP Lawrence or JVP KU chapter,” he said. 

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August Rudisell (he/him) has been a photographer and videographer for The Lawrence Times since March 2021. He is a former dispatcher, he avidly consumes and creates local news, and he would love to meet your dog when out and about at a community event.

See more of his work for the Times here. He can be reached at arudisell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com.

Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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