On Oct. 27, a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and injuring at least six others.

Hillel at UR held a vigil — to honor the victims, pray for survivors, and strengthen the grieving community.

The vigil was held at the Interfaith Chapel. The hall was packed, and silence held, but for whispers in the back rows.

On stage, there lay a table with 11 candles, each representing a victim from the shooting.

“Even when the world feels very broken, we’re called upon to affirm that which is holy,” Dennis Kirshchbaum, the executive director of Hillel, said.

“Community is the antithesis of hate,” he continued. “Antonym of division. Only in community do peace, wholeness, shalom have any meaning. All that’s really required is that we show kindness. That we comfort one another.”

Kirschbaum then proceeded to read aloud the names of the victims of the tragedy. Each name was read by a different member of UR Hillel.

Meg Wells, a springboard innovation specialist, led the attendees in singing Rabbi Menachem Creditor’s “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” and Debbie Friedman’s “Mi Shebeirach,” both songs about healing and rebuilding. Everyone present was encouraged to join.

This was followed by a reading of a prayer by Creditor and a poem by senior Emerson Finkle.

Tal Hadad, the Jewish Agency Israel fellow to Hillel, then shared his thoughts and experiences.

“How many of you have experienced antisemitism?” Hadad asked.

Almost everyone present raised their hands.

“People always raise their hands when I ask this question,” Hadad continued, “Always.”

Hadad spoke about his experience as a tour guide in Israel. He said that no matter how many times he asked the above question to tourists, the answer was always yes.

“It’s the one time when I wished people wouldn’t raise their hands,” Hadad said. “But there was always at least one person who did raise their hand.”

The speakers recalled teachings from the Hebrew Bible. The story of the Prophet Jeremiah was the first of the two stories. His purchase of land from his cousin Hanamel in the face of Babylonian seizure of his city is taught as a lesson on action in the face of tragedy.

The other was the reason why the Life of Sarah, as described in the Torah, referred to the time after Sarah’s death. This was related to what this meant about the passing of those in our own community.

To Hadad, the overall lesson from the event was the power in unity.

“The people of Israel have one message for you,” Hadad said. “We stand together against antisemitism. We stand together against hate.”

Tagged: Hillel


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