Loyola’s Jewish Community Gathers to Pray for Peace 

Prayers for Peace were hosted by Campus Ministry and Hillel at Loyola.

Members of Loyola’s Jewish community gathered to share words of comfort, mourning and hope Thursday evening as the war between Israel and Hamas continues.

Hillel at Loyola, the school’s branch of citywide Jewish community organization Metro Chicago Hillel, held the prayers for peace event in collaboration with Campus Ministry in the Sullivan Center’s Galvin Hall at Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. Students, faculty and staff attended the event in person and online via Zoom.

Patti Ray, retired founding director of Hillel at Loyola and Hebrew program director in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, said the prayer was intended to provide a space for Loyola’s Jewish community to gather and for non-Jewish people to show their support.

“It’s a very difficult time for the Jewish community,” Ray said. “We cannot believe it, can’t make sense of it. What happened in Israel has shaken the Jewish community to its core.”

Hamas, a Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack on Israel Oct. 7, leading to a war and humanitarian crisis, according to the Associated Press

Katherine O’Neill, Jewish life associate with Campus Ministry, was one of the hosts for the evening. She graduated from Loyola in 2021 and is in her first year as a staff member. 

O’Neill described the feelings of grief she and her students are experiencing as members of the Jewish community. She said she has friends in Israel, making the news and images of the war much more personal.

“I do have a lot of students who have family there, and it’s really devastating to be so far away and to not know if you’re going to wake up to the news of someone being dead,” O’Neill said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling of paralysis that comes with that fear, but I’m constantly grateful and reminded of how beautiful this community is — both the Jewish community and the way that we come together and the broader community here in Chicago and at the university.”

O’Neill also said she recognizes this is a painful time for many different people, including anyone who cares about innocent human life.

“There’s a lot of loss in every community,” O’Neill said. “Not just the Jewish community, but the Muslim community and the Palestinian community as well, and it’s really important to focus on unity rather than division — that all life is valuable and any loss of life is a horrific tragedy that should be mourned.”

O’Neill began the evening with words of comfort and “Oseh Shalom,” a prayer for peace sung in Hebrew. 

Student board members of Hillel at Loyola followed. Fourth-year president Sydnee O’Donnell, second-year co-chair and treasurer Lauren Viteri and third-year social media manager Gracie Frank read their own peace prayers in English.

Devorah Schoenfeld, associate professor in the Department of Theology, and Rabbi Jonathan Posner of Base Logan Square at Metro Chicago Hillel followed with prayers for peace, healing, compassion and mourning. 

Posner said the “Mourner’s Kaddish” is traditionally said in a “minyan” — a group of at least 10 Jewish people required for certain religious obligations — because reciting it alone wouldn’t work.

“Being alone is what makes the grief win,” Posner said. “Being alone is what makes the hurt win. And in togetherness, we can find healing.”

Steven Betancourt, director of Campus Ministry, ended the evening by sharing how he gets through the day in times of tragedy. He said he gives gratitude to God when he wakes up to a new day, trusts God and his love and has hope his actions and thoughts can be a positive change in the world.

Betancourt said it’s important for people to give hope to those around them.

“As we leave our time this evening, we will still have sadness,” Betancourt said. “We will mourn, but we shouldn’t ever stop in our desire for love to overcome the sadness and evil in our world. It is our work. So I invite you to consider how you can make the world a better place in your actions, in your work, how you love, how you encounter the world around you.”

O’Neill said she wants students to know they’re all welcome to come to Campus Ministry for comfort. 

“Myself and the rest of the Campus Ministry team are here for you regardless of how personal this is for you,” O’Neill said. “Whatever you’re feeling right now — sadness, grief, anger, confusion, shock, all of it — it’s OK, and we are here to hold space with you. We’re here to pray for you, and we care.”
Campus Ministry is hosting a similar Prayer for Peace event for the entire Loyola community Oct. 18 at 5 p.m. at the Peace Pole located outside Cudahy Science Hall.

Feature image by Aidan Cahill / The Phoenix

Maddie Franz

Maddie Franz