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Passover Seder held near protest encampment at the University of Pennsylvania

Several organizations hold Passover Seder near protest encampment at the University of Pennsylvania
Several organizations hold Passover Seder near protest encampment at the University of Pennsylvania 03:37

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Steps away from the encampment of student protesters at the University of Pennsylvania, several organizations hosted a Passover Seder meal Sunday, sharing a message of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Organized by Tikkun Olam ChavurahJewish Voice for Peace - PhiladelphiaRabbis for Ceasefire and Families for Ceasefire, the event was an opportunity for all people to share matzah, enjoy a poetry reading and find company among a community of people calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

Rabbi Linda Holtzman, organizer of Tikkun Olam Chavurah, a social justice community with a Jewish spiritual base, said Passover has felt "incomplete" this year.

"We couldn't say the words that we were liberated and fully celebrate when we know that the people of Gaza are being killed," Holtzman said.

Students have been camping out in tents on campus since Thursday. Emma Herndon, a senior at Penn who lives on the encampment, said they're asking the university to disclose its investments, divest from Israeli companies and defend the voices of pro-Palestinian students.

The university said Friday the encampment has involved "blatant violations of University policies and credible reports of harassing and intimidating."

Herndon said that's not the case.

"If you come and you visit this encampment, you would know that we're not encouraging hate or anything, we're actually dispelling that," Herndon said.

On Sunday, the university said in a statement, "After many efforts to engage the protesters, the interim president and provost met with several student and faculty protestors Saturday night to hear their concerns. They reiterated to the protestors the importance of complying with Penn's policies, which are designed to support open expression while ensuring the safety of all on our campus."

However, one young man, who did not want to share his name for fear of harassment, claimed he was targeted when visiting the encampment Friday. He identified himself as an independent journalist who went to the encampment to take videos.

"People immediately surrounded me," he said. "They blocked me in. They were saying antisemitic things."

Holtzman said the four organizations Sunday felt it important to support the students' demands, particularly the call for transparency on funding.

"People who are here today are ready to stand up," Holtzman said, "even if they're angering their families, they're angering their friends, they're angering others in the Jewish community."

Tali Ruskin feels that firsthand, saying her support of Palestine as a Jew has created difficulties within her family. But she wants more in the Jewish community to confront the reality of how many people are being killed overseas.

"Nobody wants to look in the mirror and say, 'I'm committing Genocide, I'm part of committing genocide,'" Ruskin said. "It's a lot easier to say 'We're the victims.'"

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