Campus vigil held after Pittsburg synagogue shooting

November 1, 2018

A campus vigil was held in light of the shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27. The vigil included songs and prayers, led by Rabbi Liza Stern, the director of the Department of Spiritual & Religious Life and was held on Oct. 30.

The vigil began with student volunteers from the audience who said the names of the victims and lit candles for them. Students also read short biographies of victims. Stern read a letter of support from the Islamic Society of Boston.

Eleven people were killed when Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, armed with handguns and a rifle, according to a report by The Washington Post. Bowers had expressed his desire to “kill Jews” in the synagogue, according to his indictment. Bowers was charged Wednesday for the shooting, according to The Post.

During the event, attendees were encouraged to have two-minute conversations with a person next to them, just to find out how the person next to them is feeling. In intermissions, songs including “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” “Sanctuary,” “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu,” “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” and “One Day” were sung.

The speakers included Rabbi Seth Winberg, the Executive Director of Hillel, who said, “We are grateful that our students and their families are unharmed, but our hearts go out to the victims and their families and we grieve with them.” He continued, saying that the “sense of connection to the Jews of Pittsburgh makes the pain of this tragedy all the more difficult to bear.” Winberg concluded by saying, “We give each other strength when we show up for each other as we have done today. So thank you for showing up.”

Allison Cornelisse, the Catholic Chaplain, gave the room some encouragement. She discussed the despair that people may feel at this time but also said, “Yet as I pick up the newspaper, and I look at the pictures, as I read the stories as I hear people’s reflection, I see a world that is overflowing with love.”

Maddie Herrup ’22 is from Pittsburgh and is well acquainted with the synagogue and the local Jewish community. She began by saying, “Things are not okay now. I don’t know when things will be.” She then described the Jewish community in Pittsburgh and how this has affected everyone. Herrup emphasizes that she has to “stand up for my faith; I have to stand up for my community.”

In a later interview with The Brandeis Hoot, Herrup said, “When I walk into a place of prayer, I feel safe and that will not stop. When I go back home, I will go to my synagogue, and I will stand proud, and I will find God for myself again.”

The vigil was held after President Ron Liebowitz released an email statement the evening the shooting occurred, in which he said, “I want to extend the Brandeis community’s profound condolences and prayers to the congregants, the brave law enforcement officers, and their families following today’s deadly attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.”

The email continued, “Out of an abundance of caution I have instructed our Brandeis public safety officers to be more visible and vigilant during this trying period. Please be attentive to your friends and colleagues who might need support.”

Rabbi Stern concluded the event by saying, “May we find healing.” The vigil was sponsored by the Department of Spiritual & Religious Life, the Brandeis Hillel and the Dean of Students.

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