December 4, 2008

Community Mourns Those Lost in India Attacks

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In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, people from all over the Cornell community came together last night to pay tribute to the lives lost in the blasts.
When attendees first entered the One World Room in Anabel Taylor Hall, they were greeted with darkness. This was a deliberate effort to illustrate the dark times that had befallen the world as a result of the attacks. Guests were invited to light a candle, to symbolize pushing the darkness out of the room.
Amy Pearlman ’09, president of the Hillel Jewish Student Union, along with Rob Chicly ’09, president of the Jewish Student Organization and chair of the Chabad student board, addressed the need to fight darkness with light and evil with good.
Pearlman said, “These acts have shaken our bodies and our souls and have left us confused and searching for meaning … But, in this time of grief … it is light that will push out the dark and empower us to make sense of the world around us.”
Chicly touched upon the need to perform acts of goodness and kindness in order to “tip the balance of the world onto the side of goodness.”[img_assist|nid=34011|title=Remembering|desc=Reverand Janet Shortall, associate director of Cornell United Religious Works, speaks at the vigil yesterday for the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
He said, “A single act can impact the entire world.”
In addition to having guests light candles to illuminate the room, Hillel advisor Rabbi Kate Speizer welcomed guests to write their commitment to acts of goodness and kindness on a puzzle piece. At the end, the puzzle pieces were put together as the “Puzzle of Good Deeds.”
The Mumbai attacks were especially personal for some of last night’s attendees because a Chabad couple died in the blasts. The two Chabad emissaries had been running a Chabad House in Mumbai.
Chabad Houses are places of hospitality scattered across the world that are meant to provide Jews of all levels of observance with a network of kosher availability and Jewish life.
Chabad-Lubavitch is one of the largest Hasidic sects of Orthodox Judaism. Its followers believe that secular Jews should become more observant.
Much of last night’s vigil was centered on remembering the works of the couple, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28. At least one of the terrorists that attacked the Chabad House in Mumbai had eaten at the house during a reconnaissance mission, according to Chabad Rabbi Eli Silberstein.
Silberstein did not know the couple very well personally, but he said, “A colleague has fallen in the line of duty. I feel a special sense of kinship with them because of their work. “
Their young son Moshe was rescued from the attacks on the Chabad house by his Indian nanny. Rivka was also pregnant.
According to Silberstein, the nanny had moved to a safe place when the attacks began, but she left her hiding place to go save the Holtzergs’ two-year-old son. He said it is these kinds of acts that remind people of the goodness in the world in times of tragedy.
President David Skorton also delivered a speech at last night’s vigil. He asked, “What words can provide comfort when the unspeakable happens?”
Quoting a Polish philosopher, Skorton explained there are three ways to grieve in times of tragedy: the man at the lowest level cries, at the second level he will be silent, but at the highest level he will turn his sorrow into a song. In keeping with this view, Skorton called out to the audience to reach out to one another.
Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman, professor emeritus of chemistry and chemical biology, ruminated on why a Jewish house was targeted in the attacks. He said, “One cries out why again are the Jews chosen this time. All we can do is reach past this moment.”
Many students in attendance at the event were moved by the ceremony. They came out to remember the lives of those lost in the blasts and those who where injured.
“I thought [the vigil] was beautifully done. It brought me back to being part of this community,” said Ingrid Gonzalez ’09.
Hannah Weinerman ’11 said, “It was really moving to see everyone here. I came because I thought it was important to actively commemorate the victims and ensure nothing like this will happen again.”
About 60 people attended last night’s vigil, bringing together young and old, students and non-students from all walks of life. The ceremony was sponsored by the Jewish Student Organization, Cornell Chabad and Cornell Hillel.