About 300 students and community members gathered Sunday afternoon on the Diag to host a community vigil following a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend.
Eleven people were killed while attending the Saturday morning Shabbat service at the Tree of Life Congregation in city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Four police officers and two others were also injured. According to the New York Times, the shooting is considered the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in U.S. history.
Engineering senior Jonathan Schermer, whose family attends the Tree of Life Congregation, spoke about his family’s connection to Squirrel Hill and encouraged solidarity among the Jewish community to empathize with those who were impacted by the shooting.
“My family is a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue,” Shermer said. “I was Bar Mitzvah’d at Tree of Life. My brother was Bar Mitzvah’d at Tree of Life. Every Jew here and every Jew around the world stands together and symbolically; we are all members of the Tree of Life synagogue.”
LSA senior Eva Rosen, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, believes the incident reveals the reality of nationwide anti-Semitic sentiments.
“While this incident has changed our community forever; it is so much bigger than Squirrel Hill, or even Pittsburgh, because it has tragically proven that anti-Semitism is alive and real,” Rosen said.
Attendees of the vigil turned on their phone flashlights and held them as the names of the 11 victims were read.
Lisa Stella, a rabbi at University of Michigan Hillel, said the attack affects Jews and the wider community.
“We recognize that identity-based violence doesn’t only affect the Jewish community and we stand with one another against hate of all kind,” Stella said. “We also want to acknowledge that even in the tragedy that affected the Jewish community at this synagogue, there were a lot of people who came to help.”
Attendees then recited a Psalm of David and Misheberach, a Jewish prayer for healing.
Alum Rachel Hurwitz said she felt uplifted from seeing community members and Jewish allies coming together to mourn.
“I’m feeling empowered by the community,” Hurwitz said. “It’s really meaningful to see so many people, Jewish and not, come out to an event like this and show their support and their care and their love.”
In regard to gun control, Hurwitz also emphasized her desire for stricter gun control policies.
“I’ve always thought that gun control is something that’s really important and something that is lacking in this country,” Hurwitz said. “If you look at many other countries similar to the United States, they all have much more serious gun control policies than we do in this country. I think that hate will always find a way, but we should make it a lot harder for them.”
A Shemira ritual was then held at the Law Quadrangle after the vigil concluded.
Attendees sang Jewish songs and said Jewish prayers while holding candles to honor those who lost their lives.
Social work student Danny Kaplan spoke to allies who came and thanked them for their support.
“To the allies in the crowd tonight, I want you to know how important your presence is in showing that we don’t have to be afraid of you and we can trust in the strategy of protection,” Kaplan said.
Law student Solomon Worlds attended in support of his Jewish peers.
“As a Black man, I can say that this is not my first time being upset and distraught about a shooting,” Worlds said. “As someone who is not Jewish but has a number of Jewish friends and people who I would consider family, it is tough to watch them go through this.”
Worlds explained the similarity between Saturday’s attack and recent events against the Black community, which included a shooting at a Kentucky Kroger store that killed two people.
“I think the same pointed hood that burns crosses in Black men’s yard is the same one that the shooter followed and the same doctrine that they used in order to fuel their doctrine,” Worlds said. “The genocide of Black people especially in the Americas is very real and historical trauma sits with me … similar with my Jewish friends.”
Kendall Coden, Chair of Michigan Hillel, said she appreciates the amount of support the Jewish community has received from other student leaders and groups on campus.
“I think it has been very helpful to receive support from the campus community during this time of hurt,” she said. “I know for myself personally, receiving messages of support from, and having other student leaders attend the vigil earlier today was really meaningful. It is also nice to be able to gather with the community to show solidarity in loving and supporting each other, and in remembering and honoring the lives lost at the Tree of Life Synagogue.”