Shippensburg University’s Hillel/Jewish Student Organization (JSO) hosted a candlelight vigil on Thursday evening to honor those who were killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.
It was a dark, cold and windy night at the candlelight vigil where a solemn, quiet crowd was facing a small table with a blue tablecloth placed on top of it. On the table, there were two baskets and lighters that would light the Yahrzeit candles. Yahrzeit is the day that follows the one-year anniversary of the death of a loved one.
An Israeli flag with the Star of David was taped to the tablecloth on the table and another flag was taped to the inside of the Ezra Lehman Memorial Library. Solemn music was being played on an acoustic guitar in the background.
Programs that explained what was going to occur during the vigil were handed out to the crowd. The wind howled in tune with the somber tone of the vigil.
At the vigil’s start, Steven Burg and Dara Bourassa, co-advisors of Hillel and JSO, introduced themselves and thanked everyone for coming.
Burg explained why the vigil was being held. He said a hate-filled man came into a Jewish place of worship and began slaughtering individuals engaging in the act of celebration.
“There were people he had never met. It was someone driven by hatred, fueled by rage, fueled by the internet and unfortunately by a toxic environment,” he said.
Burg described the shooter’s anti-Semetic actions against a diverse group of people.
“We will not let hate go unchallenged. In Judaism, there is a belief that the world is a broken and imperfect place, but part of that belief is the idea that it’s our responsibility to heal the world, Tikkun Olam,” he said.
Bourassa echoed, “We cannot have this hatred any longer. Things have to change.”
The student members of Hillel/JSO spoke, as well as members of SU campus and the Shippensburg community. Katherine Hargrove, secretary and head organizer of the candlelight vigil, spoke first. In her speech, Hargrove said, “I am a Jew.”
“Shakespeare wrote in the late 1500s those very words. ‘I’m a Jew. Hath not a Jew’s eyes. Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; or we not fed with same food, hurt with the same passions and weapons, subject to the same diseases, if you prick us, do we not bleed? If you shoot us, do we not die,’” she said.
Hargrove mentioned many anti-Semitic actions that have recently occurred, such as a Jewish politician’s home was burned down in Sweden.
She wanted to acknowledge that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.
A statement that was said in many of the speeches was, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Hargrove shared her emotions about the incident that occurred in Pittsburgh.
“[I’m] disappointed but not surprised. Anti-Semitism is prevalent and inherently violent and cruel. In the last two years, anti-Semitic actions have risen exponentially,” she said.
Robert Greenberg, member of Hillel, gave a speech that pulled the audience in to make it feel the raw emotion of his words. People agreed with what Greenberg said.
“I wish that I could feel sorrow right now — instead I have this anger in my heart. As long as I’m unscarred, I will fight for those who aren’t,” he said. “As long as I can walk, I will march for those who can’t. As long as I have a voice, I will speak for those who won’t. I will live, I will fight. I will not be erased.”
Members of Hillel/JSO lead the Prayer of Healing, the Mi Sheberakh. Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Daniel Velez spoke, and director of multicultural student affairs (MSA) Diane Jefferson sang a song to create unity.
Hargrove shared why it was important to hold the candlelight vigil.
“I don’t think people are aware of how much we as the Jewish community are hurting. I don’t think people maybe not involved with MSA and other marginalized groups aren’t going to realize how much it hurts,” she said.
She listed resources for students such as the counseling center, MSA, Hillel/JSO and faculty.
Kendal Clewell, a sophomore and the president of Students Advocating For Equality (S.A.F.E) shared her thoughts about the vigil.
“It was good. It was moving. It was well organized, and it had a bigger turn-out then I thought it would have. It was nice to see the campus get together. It reminded me of the chalking event,” she said.
“It’s horrible and I am glad that people are standing up against it. It also lets people be more vigilant [about] future events. It makes people more safety cautious,” she said.
India Zumbo, vice president of S.A.F.E shared her thoughts about the vigil.
“It was very solemn because of the tragedy. It was also very powerful because it felt like people were coming together as a community. #ShipUnited. I thought the speakers had very powerful messages,” she said.