UF Hillel Holds Solidarity Shabbat After Spencer


October 20, 2017

Though the crowds diminished, police presence faded and closed buildings reopened, signs of Richard Spencer’s Thursday visit to UF still remained Friday.

Orange and white barricades lined sidewalks and uplifting chalk messages stuck out against the beige pavement.

About one day after avowed white supremacist Spencer spoke at UF, the Jewish group UF Hillel, located at 2020 W. University Ave. held its first Solidarity Shabbat on Friday night. The goal of the event was to have the about 40 students reflect on their feelings and discuss how to stand against hate, said Emily Snider, the student success director and Springboard Fellow for Social Justice at UF Hillel.

At the service, speakers from different backgrounds and religions discussed the importance of conversation, love, celebrating differences, hope, unity and education.

People sat in a circle and sang songs about peace and unity. Near the end of the event, the audience discussed the best way to develop a plan to extend the conversation beyond that night’s Shabbat.

Snider said she began working at UF Hillel about three months ago, before the Charlottesville, Virginia, riots occurred.

Her role at UF Hillel as a social justice fellow gives her purpose, she said.

“This is not my side gig,” she said. “This is my full-time job.”

Snider said Spencer’s visit has created a mix of emotions. Though she feared his visit, she found the community’s response reassuring.

“It has been a great source of anxiety and fear,” she said. “But it’s also been empowering and strengthening.”

Though UF Hillel had been planning a solidarity event for a while, Snider said Spencer’s visit sped up the plans.

“Watching people come together and celebrate diversity has been so amazing and empowering,” she said.

Rabbi Adam Grossman, UF Hillel’s CEO, said there was no doubt there has been a growing tension in town.

“Our opportunity at this moment is determining where we as a community seek to go,” he said.

He said the Solidarity Shabbat “provides a spirit and soul and light that guides us forward together.”

“My hope is that this is the springboard for people to come together,” he said.

Julia Sabra, a 20-year-old UF psychology junior, is the president of UF Hillel and led the service for the night.

“This week was the opening of a conversation we don’t typically have,” she said.

Sabra said the event was not just because of Spencer, saying “he simply served as a reminder to stand up for each other.” She hopes the event was the start of building closer relationships with the UF and Gainesville community.

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