Israeli and Jewish students celebrate community and culture amidst pro-Palestinian protests

Moore: “Broadly, the Jewish and Israeli communities have really come together across all levels.”

10580 5 14%28e%29 israeli day of independence 15
The Israeli Day of Independence event on Kresge Oval, May 14.
Ellie Montemayor–The Tech
10581 5 14%28e%29 israeli day of independence 03
Chairs set up in a circle around a banner that reads "Bring them home!" referencing the Israeli hostages held in Gaza, during the Israeli Day of Independence event on Kresge Oval, May 14.
10582 5 14%28e%29 israeli day of independence 06
Rabbi Joel Dinin and a student playing a song at the end of the Israeli Day of Independence event on Kresge Oval, May 14.
10583 5 14%28e%29 israeli day of independence 12
An individual airbrushing the Israeli flag on a white shirt during the Israeli Day of Independence event on Kresge Oval, May 14.
10584 5 14%28e%29 israeli day of independence 14
Written responses to a poll on hopes in the future at the back of the Israeli Day of Independence event tent, May 14.

Publisher's Note: A note was added in the article clarifying the discrepancy between the date of observance of the Israeli Day of Independence and the scheduled date for this year's campus celebrations as coming from an unrelated Institute scheduling conflict.


In the final weeks of the semester, Israeli and Jewish students came together on a number of occasions to celebrate community, culture, and identity in the aftermath of pro-Palestinian protests on campus.


May 14 — Israeli Day of Independence

On May 14, MIT Hillel, a campus affinity organization centered on Jewish life, held its annual Israeli Day of Independence event on Kresge Oval. Known in Hebrew as Yom Ha'atzmaut, this celebration marked the 76th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel and took place four days after the dismantlement of a pro-Palestinian student encampment that had taken up the space since April 21.

The gathering was touted as a celebration of Jewish self-determination and Israeli culture, featuring various catered foods and activities.

Several dozens attended the event, including a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, affiliated researchers, faculty, and other Jewish and Israeli-identifying members of the MIT community. 

“I’m glad we get to celebrate our country without making it about the debate,” a postdoctoral researcher in the Linguistics department, who asked only to be referred to as Daniel, said. “It’s very important, but there’s also life around it.”

Still, collective grief hung over the attendees as they engaged in merriment: reflection stations and hostage memorials were set up during the event to allow participants to voice their emotions amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the surrounding pro-Palestinian protest movements in the U.S. and at the Institute.

“This tent holds both grief and joy. We are grieving all innocents lost, the hostages still in Gaza, and all who’ve been horrifically impacted by this war and the October 7th terror attack,” a sign posted by the tent read. “And we are also filled with gratitude for Israel, our homeland, where we can live freely as Jews in the land that is at the core of our sacred text, our holidays, our history, and so much more.”

Three paper boards hung on the back interior of the tent asked attendees about their grievances and hopes. Some wrote about hope for continued peace and prosperity, and others grieved the loss of a cultural openness that had allowed Jewish culture to thrive for years across the nation. Many wrote about the ongoing war — “I hope the war to stop,” one note read.

Next to the tent, 132 folding chairs were arranged in a circle facing a banner that read, “Bring them home,” in reference to the Israeli hostages in the Gaza strip. (As of June 8, 2024, 120 Israeli hostages remain in captivity.)

The event was initially set to take place on May 7, but was postponed due to the presence of the encampment. (While campus celebrations usually take place on the day of observance, organizers reportedly initially moved this year's to the week prior to accommodate an external Institute scheduling conflict. It was not immediately clear how this unrelated conflict was resolved.) A second, unofficial celebration hosted by the MIT Israel Alliance (IA) instead took its place on that day.

“We will have our joy amidst dark times. We will not be cowed by terror and threats. We will continue to pray and work toward dialog, coexistence, and peace,” a press release by MIT IA read.

At the time, student leaders representing MIT Hillel and MIT IA privately censured the administration for its failure to reopen Kresge Oval following a continued encampment presence leading up to its May 10 dismantlement, having reserved the space months in advance.

The administration in response reportedly offered to relocate the event to Hockfield Court or postpone the reservation to the following week, which the student leaders rejected; ultimately, the event was held on May 14 as the administration was unable to clear the encampment in time for the original May 7 plan, as previously reported by The Tech.

Overall, the May 14 celebration was described by attendees and organizers as peaceful and celebratory. “The atmosphere is very nice, very diverse,” an attendee who wished to remain anonymous said.


May 16 — “We Will Dance Again” Concert

The Israeli Day of Independence event took place just days before a student-led party co-organized by MIT IA on Hockfield Court, titled “We Will Dance Again: Uniting in Rhythm.” The event, a concert and “siyum” held in honor of those killed in the Re'im music festival massacre on October 7, was co-sponsored by several local and national affinity organizations such as MIT Hillel, the Israeli American Council, and the Jewish National Fund.

“In Jewish tradition, we mix sorrow with joy, remembering the past even as we celebrate the present, affirming our commitment to dialogue, coexistence, and peace,” a press release by MIT IA ahead of the event read.

The event was partially funded through an online crowdsourcing platform and raised $36,395 of an initial $50,000 goal across over 400 donations.

Some students raised concerns about the nature of this funding method, describing it as violating policies set in the Student Organization Handbook and various rules that Association of Student Activities (ASA) student groups are bound to. In response, administrators noted that the event, while sanctioned by the Institute, was not organized through the Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement (SOLE) office — and as such was not bound to policies from the Handbook.

“If any department on campus wants to hold an event, sell tickets, collect money through a third party, that has nothing to do with SOLE. If there is an event that is conducted outside of our scope, they can do whatever they want within the Institute’s parameters,” SOLE Assistant Director Ramon Downes wrote in private email communications between SOLE and the ASA Executive Board obtained by The Tech.

The event took place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and was open to the general public. Musical performances were from artists such as Israel-American musician Idan Raichel, Jewish-American rapper Matisyahu and son Laivy, DJ and Nova Music Festival survivor Daniel Vaknin, and American pianist Five For Fighting. 

Hundreds of attendees, packed within a large tent set up for the event, held up Israeli hand flags and sang along to a rendition of “One Day” by Matisyahu and Five For Fighting. Some held up signs with pro-Israeli messaging, such as those that read #BringThemHome, referring to the Israeli hostages currently kept captive in the Gaza strip.

“While [the pro-Palestinian campus movement is] busy creating a hostile environment for Jews and Israelis this entire year, we’re celebrating our Jewish and Israeli pride,” a social media post from the MIT IA Instagram account wrote. “Words can’t describe how amazing it was to bring the entire Jewish community together to wrap up this semester after everything we have been through on campus.”

According to MIT IA, over a thousand people attended the event.

“There are a lot of people in the community who suffered loss or have experienced a tough time, and I think just coming together in support and saying that we will dance again despite the hate is very important,” MIT IA co-president Eitan Moore ’26 said of the event in a later interview with The Tech. “Coming together with a positive message of peace — I think it’s rare and often hard to hear now, but it’s a message that we have to push forward and that we definitely try to emphasize. It’s something that I think has been heard at a lot of our rallies, including at the ‘We Will Dance Again’ celebration.”


Looking Forward

As the semester came to a close, student leaders reiterated a focus on maintaining community.

“There’s an intention to focus on positive things,” Moore said of plans being made by student leaders in preparation for the fall semester. “Obviously connecting as a community, but also showing Israeli culture and Jewish culture in a positive light.”

Moore described plans to seek opportunities for dialogue — he described a commitment to reaching out to other groups and engaging in productive discussion while also informing of the hurt that the Jewish community has felt in the past months.

Looking forward, Moore said that student leaders in the Jewish community plan to remain focused on building positive experiences. Stemming from the strengthened connections made over the course of the past months amidst adversity, one such avenue is in the relationship between students and faculty. “I think it’s been really amazing to see the support of the Jewish and Israeli faculty since October 7th... we’ve seen an outpouring of support from a lot of the faculty,” Moore said.

Moore pointed to biweekly faculty lunches that continue to be held, among many other campus events that have brought the Jewish community together.

“Broadly, the Jewish and Israeli communities have really come together across all levels... through a really tough time. At the end of the day, we also want to bring a positive message and put an emphasis on positive things, and to come together and stand up for who we are,” Moore said.