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Reject Israel Shabbat, join Solidarity Shabbat

Several dozen people stand in front of a sunlit building.
The Cannon Green Gaza Solidarity Encampment on May 8.
Calvin K. Grover / The Daily Princetonian

The following is an open letter and reflects the authors' views alone. For information on how to submit a piece to the Opinion section, click here.

This Friday, May 10, the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) will be hosting “Israel Shabbat,” a themed Shabbat dinner celebrating the state of Israel. This is not the first time the CJL has hosted this Israel themed Shabbat. However, in 2024, this celebration of the state will be occurring in the midst of Israel’s ongoing campaign of mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza, including well-documented war crimes and gross violations of international humanitarian law. As progressive Jewish students at Princeton, we call on the campus community to join us at Solidarity Shabbat on Cannon Green instead. 


As attendees celebrate Israeli culture and achievement, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continues its invasion of Rafah, a 1.2 square kilometer space where 1.3 million Palestinians and over 600,000 children are sheltering with no place to turn. In their bombardment and invasion of the Gaza strip, the IDF have killed over 34,000 Palestinian men, women, and children — a chilling statistic which has accompanied the many scenes of brutality, starvation, and suffering across Palestine over the last seven months. This is not new: as progressive Jewish students at Princeton, we have been outspoken critics of Israel Shabbat and the CJL’s institutionalization of Zionism for many years. Since at least 2022, major human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as human rights organizations led by Israeli Jews, have recognized apartheid as the appropriate term to describe the system of second-class citizenship for Arab citizens in Israel and the treatment of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.  

As Jewish affiliates of the University, we find it deeply troubling that the CJL will be celebrating the nation-state responsible for this devastation. How can we practice the value of pikuach nefesh, which recognizes saving a life above all other laws in Jewish tradition, while celebrating a state that has murdered almost 40,000 people? How can we enact the teaching that every human is made in the image of the Divine, b’tzelem elohim, while celebrating a state that does not recognize Palestinians as equally deserving of rights? How can we heed the mandate of our tradition to pursue justice, tzedek tzedek tirdof, if we do not fight against the incredible injustice of occupation, apartheid, starvation, and war crimes? 

And the celebration of the state of Israel goes beyond this one Shabbat. It is baked into the institution’s everyday programming, and this has only increased in the last seven months, as reflected in the adornment of the building with massive Israeli flags. 

Tonight’s “Israel Shabbat,” as well as the day-to-day celebration of Israel in light of its international human rights violations and brutality over the last seven months, has alienated many Jewish students critical of the ethno-state’s actions. Though the CJL has attempted to portray itself as a politically neutral space which welcomes Jewish students of all political views, its institutional support of Israel says otherwise. Through deliberate programs like Birthright Trips and its Israel Fellow Initiative, the CJL wields its influence to advance a Zionist political agenda on campus. 

Most damagingly, the CJL is forcing a binary where Zionist ideology and Jewish community are synonymous and inextricably linked — a binary we vehemently contest. Throughout the past seven months, CJL leadership has put out many statements that center on concerns about antisemitism and support for the state of Israel; not a single one has acknowledged the loss of Palestinian life. Instead, these statements have egregiously characterized the hundreds of students involved in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment as antisemitic. Rather than mourning all loss of life — what we see as the very least the CJL could do — Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91 has cited the importance of “Jewish joy” numerous times since Oct. 7. Mostly recently, on May 1, Steinlauf wrote in his “Campus Update Message”: “Israel is now the easy target upon which all the frustrations and ills of society are being projected by students.” We reject this mischaracterization of our activism and affirm our solidarity with Palestinians as part of a larger struggle against oppressive systems — from our own prison and policing systems in this country to authoritarian regimes around the world — and for collective liberation. 

As non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, we see clearly how the Jewish community, Jewish safety, and the threat of antisemitism on this campus have been weaponized to silence pro-Palestinian voices, including our own. Many Jewish students have been working to build alternative community structures outside of the CJL, a project that all are invited to join, as evidenced by the Alliance for Jewish Progressives’ programming. 


We invite all students, faculty, and community members, Jewish or not, to join us this Friday, May 9, for “Solidarity Shabbat” at the Popular University for Gaza on Cannon Green. We are grateful to welcome Rabbi Andrue Kahn of Rabbis for Ceasefire at 6 p.m., followed by Kabbalat Shabbat services at 7 p.m. and dinner afterwards.

This is a continuation of the Shabbat services we have been holding in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment for the past two weeks. For many of us who have felt alienated and ostracized by the CJL for our political views, these have been deeply meaningful Shabbat gatherings. We are part of the lineage of Jewish people who have worked in solidarity across differences for human rights and justice. We are practicing a Judaism that lives out its commitment to the liberation for all people, not in the abstract or the future, but in the tangible and the now. 

Reject Israel Shabbat. Join us for Solidarity Shabbat.

The signatories listed signed as of 12:25 p.m. EST on May 10, 2024. To view a full list of signatories or to sign the letter, please see this continuously updating document. The document is monitored by the authors of the letter.

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Sara Ryave ’24 

Alan Plotz ’25 

Emanuelle Sippy ’25 

Nate Howard ’25 

Abigail Glickman ’24 

Abigail Leibowitz ’26 

Adam Sanders ’25 

Alex Norbrook ’26 

Andrew Zacks ’25  

Ariel Munczek Edelman GS (SPIA) 

Benjamin Gelman ’23 

Chana Mitty ’26 

Charlotte Pfenning ’26 

Chaya Holch ’23 

Chayim Lowen GS (Math)

Christopher Wilks ’20

Claire Nuchtern ’15 

Dylan Shapiro ’23

Eleanor Clemans-Cope ’26 

Elena Milliken ’26 

Ellie Diamond ’26 

Ezekiel Douglas Rosenthal ’27 

Harry Gorman ’26 

Jack Toubes ’25 

Jacob Miller ’25 

Jasmyn Dobson ’24 

Jasper Waldman ’25 

Jody Savin ’82 

Joel Beinin ’70 

Jonathan Mandel GS (Art History) 

John Oakes ’83

Lisa Clemans-Cope ’94 

Oliver Berke ’27

Martin Mastnak ’25 

Max Weiss, Faculty 

Maya Rosen ’17 

Micah Newberger ’23 

Michelle Lerner ’93

Monica Essig Aberg, Staff

Paige Silverstein ’24 

Raphaela Gold ’26 

Rio Baran ’25 

Sakura Price ’23 

Zach Ducorsky ’26 

Zachariah Sippy ’23 

Zachary Lockman ’74 

Zev Mishell ’23