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Annual Holocaust Remembrance Day walk around Aldrich Park

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Students, faculty and community members participated in a commemoration of the annual Yom HaShoah, Israel’s internationally recognized Holocaust Remembrance Day, on May 6. The event was co-organized by Hillel at UCI, UCI Center for Jewish Studies, UC Irvine Alpha Epsilon Pi, Stand With Us and the OC Israeli American Council (IAC) chapter. The day corresponds to the Hebrew calendar and commemorates the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This year, the date fell on the first week of Jewish American Heritage Month and coincided with the ongoing UCI pro-Palestine encampment protests. 

Around 40 students and 30 community members walked silently around Aldrich Park to remember and respect the lives lost during the Holocaust. Some carried Israeli and American flags, while others held signs of loved ones who lost their lives during the Oct. 7 Israel-Palestine escalation. In addition to the walk, a Yom HaShoah informational booth was set up at the Social Science plaza on Ring Road.

Before the walk, a list of guidelines was handed out to visiting participants from the surrounding community that urged them to remain calm. It also outlined provisions affirming that any counterprotest is not affiliated with Hillel at UCI. 

“We ask that you model dignity for students and the community, do not engage with any agitators, and not visit the encampment at all,” the pamphlet read. “Please remember you are not students. We as students still have to face our peers once you leave. Your actions directly affect us as Jewish students and our daily lives.”  

Hillel at UCI board member Shir Diner attended the walk and said that as the group moved closer to the encampment, they heard shouting and encountered people yelling at their group. 

“It’s important to come together as a Jewish community and celebrate our strength, it does not need to be political to recognize the loss of 6 million people,” Diner said in an interview with the New University. “I’ve been harassed on multiple occasions, and I’ve had cameras shoved in my face. I don’t think it makes our campus feel safe.” 

Sari has been a part of Hillel since she was a first-year out-of-state student looking for community. Sari said she learned how to order kosher meals through the university meal program from Hillel. According to Sari, some Jewish students have recently expressed fear of coming to campus.   

“I think the best thing is just having this community. Especially since Oct. 7, it’s been tough for us. Most of us have family in Israel and friends, and obviously, the political environment of campus is also hard, so we are just there for the students,” Sari said. “What’s hard is not the encampment[’s existence], but the fact that it can get antisemitic really quickly.” 

The walk ended as participants reached the booth, where Hillel board member Nova Sari read a statement in remembrance of Holocaust victims and survivors. Speakers also included Rabbi Daniel Levine and Jeffrey Kopstein, professor of political science and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies. 

“Holocaust Remembrance Day has nothing to do with encampments, it’s been scheduled for many months,” Sari said. “We have to keep it separate, that’s what we’re doing. We’re just going to do it as we were doing in the past years, to respect the memory of the victims and to honor the survivors.”

Community members Stephaney and Paula also spoke to the New University about their reasons for joining the remembrance walk. They discussed the walk coinciding with the encampment protests and expressed their thoughts on the war in Palestine in reference to their family members’ experiences. 

“It’s devastating. It’s a cousin. And we’re in good, close touch with … the older brother who’s been traveling the world campaigning for his brother to be free with the rest of the hostages,” Stephaney said while holding a poster of her cousin who was killed during the Oct. 7 attack. “As a mother of three kids, I can’t even fathom what my cousin is going through [along with] his mother. They don’t sleep. His father has shut down. He’s just kind of a shell of a person. It’s horrible.”

“There’s a reason why we say ‘never again’ because of what happened in the Holocaust where 6 million Jews were killed. This is just a remembrance for them and to continue to remind the society that it should not happen again and ‘never again’ is now — specifically because of the situation we are seeing right now,” Paula said, who also lost two family members in Israel.

New University also interviewed an encampment protester, who requested anonymity, about the remembrance walk coinciding with the UCI Gaza Solidarity Encampment that has been in the Physical Sciences Quad since April 29. 

“I believe that if you’re against one genocide, you should be against all genocides, no matter what country it is, because essentially, a genocide is a humanitarian issue, and not just an ethnic issue or a religious issue. It is a human issue,” they said. 

Despite the organizer’s efforts to prevent Yom HaShoah participants from nearing the encampment, some community members walked around the site with signs and flags while the Day 8 Palestine Solidarity rally was ongoing. No interactions between those attending the walk and the encampment protesters were reported at the time of the walk itself. 

Following the walk, some community members were seen holding signs in support of Israel outside of the encampment. 

Gail Geffon and Mandy Shamis, community members from Orange County, organized a group of Jewish mothers to bake and package 280 bags of cookies to support students at UCI and neighboring universities. The bags were labeled with encouraging messages for students studying for midterm exams. 

Photo by Emilie Takahashi / Staff

“I want students to know that we in the Jewish community care about them and they’re not alone,” Geffon said. “We know the pain that they are going through and this is our way of giving them some sweetness in their lives.”

Next week there are two more Israel national political and religious days of remembrance. May 13 is Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and May 14 is Yom Ha’atzmaut, celebrating Israel’s independence.

Skylar Paxton is an Opinion Apprentice. She can be reached at paxtons@uci.edu

Emilie Takahashi is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at takahae1@uci.edu