Jared Wickerham / The New York Times

Cornell Hillel will hold a vigil on Ho Plaza honoring the victims of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

October 28, 2018

Vigil to be Held on Ho Plaza Following Shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue

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Following Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Roitman Chabad Center at Cornell University and Cornell Hillel will hold a community-wide vigil on Monday at 4:30 p.m. on Ho Plaza.

“Our hearts are broken by the news of the horrific attack during Shabbat services yesterday at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Cornell Hillel said in an email to its members on Sunday. “We feel enormous pain and sorrow for the families and loved ones of the eleven people killed in this horrible attack, and we pray for refuah shleima (full recovery) for those who were injured.”

Eleven congregants were killed on Saturday, making it the worst massacre that has occurred in the U.S. Jewish community in decades, according to The New York Times. Robert Bowers, who allegedly said to an officer from the SWAT team that he “wanted all Jews to die,” has been charged by federal officials with 29 criminal counts, including a hate crime, The Times reported.

Monday’s vigil will involve students sharing “words of mourning” and solidarity and Jewish prayers used in times of mourning, according to Rabbi Ari Weiss, executive director of Cornell Hillel. The names of the 11 congregants who were killed will also be read, Weiss said.

“We will be gathering in the spirit of community and unity to show our commitment to loving and supporting one another against hatred by offering prayers and readings,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

Sasha Chanko ’19, president of Cornell Hillel’s student executive board, told The Sun that although the shooting “was far away geographically,” to many Jewish students on campus, “it felt very close by personally.”

“There’s that feeling now of a little less of a safe space for Jews to freely practice Judaism and it’s really important for us to come together,” he said in an interview with The Sun.

Weiss similarly called the rise in anti-Semitism in the U.S. “troubling,” noting that he had felt that “America was a safe haven” for Jewish people and that “to have that shattered with 11 people murdered … is just shocking and frightening.”

Cornell Hillel noted in an email to its members that the organization “will be working with officials at Cornell University and CUPD to redouble our efforts to ensure the safety of our community.” The organization also noted that members will be available to hear students’ and others’ concerns and feelings.

“We have deep concern for the security of our own and all Jewish communities around the United States and the world as we experience a rapid rise of anti-Semitism,” the email read. “This concern is intertwined with our broader worry for all individuals and communities targeted by hate and fear.”

Rabbi Eli Silberstein, director of the Roitman Chabad Center, called the shooting a “wake-up call” that “made us aware that the unthinkable can happen.”

“This crime and crimes like these that have occurred in the past decade are an attempt to undermine and destroy the very dream and vision that this country was founded on, which was the vision of freedom for all peoples to observe and practice that which they deem as sacred and important,” he told The Sun, “and no one can come and tell anyone that they have no right to follow their path and exhibit adherence to their creed, or their faith, or their ideology.”

Last October, anti-Semitic posters displaying swastikas and calling for people to “join the white gang” were found on several campus buildings and an Ezra Cornell statue. A rally against hate was held on Ho Plaza in response.

Weiss, Chanko and Silberstein emphasized the need for not just the Jewish community but the broader community to come together after events like Saturday’s shooting.

“I’ve personally felt supported by friends and family within and outside of my community, and I just want to encourage everyone to get in the habit of reaching out to people they care about when something disturbing like this happens,” Chanko said.

At the time of publication on Sunday night, 190 individuals had indicated on the Facebook page that they planned to go to Monday’s vigil.