Not a seat went unused during the Chabad UF Jewish Student and Community Center’s special solidarity gathering on Friday evening.
The event occurred nearly a week after antisemitic statements appeared at the stadium and a nearby building after the University of Georgia vs. University of Florida football game on Oct. 29.
A sign at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville displayed a message referring to rapper Kanye West’s, now known as Ye, recent antisemitic comments.
The message read, “Kanye is right about the Jews.”
“When things like this happen, it is a double-edged sword,” said Rabbi Berl Goldman, director of Chabad, UF, in an interview. “People are outraged, concerned, and the worst of it all, people are fearful. Individual human rights and dignity are feeling safe in our own community and homes. Community is essential, and unfortunately, the agenda of propaganda of antisemitism, hate and bias, in our case against Jews, is to stoke fear and cause concern and division.”
Goldman explained that the rally is an expression of unity and support for the community, sending a clear message that hate speech will not be tolerated and people will not live in fear.
The rally touched upon the importance of knowing that speech similar to that shared at the football game is unacceptable for the Jewish community and any other groups of people.
The purpose behind the rally was to ensure the solidarity and united front the Gainesville community has for its people, and such speech and actions are not welcomed.
“Unfortunately, hate speech and antisemitism isn’t anything new,” said Joseph Bensabat, President of the Lubavitch-Chabad Student Group, in an interview. “Whenever something like this occurs, we never feel as safe as we should, and these words impact everybody, not only Jewish individuals. But the response from the UF and Gainesville community is incredible.”
During the event, Chabad UF Jewish Student and Community Center leaders, county and city leaders, and UF faculty and students gave remarks and shared their unity with the community.
“Anyone involved in the Gainesville community needs to feel as though your elected leaders are here for you, are supporting you, and we stand with you,” City Commissioner Harvey Ward said. “I want you all to know that we are not silent in the face of hate, and we never will be.”
Marsha McGriff, the chief diversity officer at UF, spoke at the rally and gave insight into plans moving forward.
After reflecting on the hateful remarks, McGriff said she knew she had to get in front of students.
On Wednesday, she met with Jewish student leaders to discuss the steps—not just one-off events, but long-term.
“I, along with student leaders, are taking some bold steps to make some long-term goals,” McGriff said in a speech. “One of those things will be to link many of the support services for our Jewish students to the CVO website. We also seek to put something on the UF About Page, which includes diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will have assessments on culture, climate, and sense of belonging with our Jewish students in the spring.”
The rally finished with members of the community enjoying food, conversation, and service, which followed dinner.
The outpouring of support shown on Friday evening did not go unnoticed.
“It is encouraging having people from all faiths, no faith people from the university, the city, the county, young and old are here, and that’s important,” Goldman said. “People wanted to express that they don’t accept, and they condemn this type of talk and rhetoric. The reality is that good will prevail, and hate, bias, and antisemitism are temporary. Love and kindness are forever, and that’s what this was all about.”