Amidst cold and rain, over 150 Cornellians — some from the Tree of Life Congregation — huddled together Monday evening on Ho Plaza to remember the victims of Saturday’s anti-Semitic shooting.
On Saturday, Robert Bowers was charged with killing 11 members of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during their Shabbat services. Rotiman Chabad Center at Cornell University and Cornell Hillel planned the vigil to remember the victims.
Several members of the Pittsburgh congregation community attended the mournful vigil — including Chad Rosenbloom grad, who lit 11 candles to remember his cousins Cecil and David Rosenthal, who were among the victims of the shooting.
“We mourn along with the city of Pittsburgh and we pray for a quick recovery and Refuah Shleimah for those who were injured,” declared Ashley Radparvar ’19 at the beginning of the vigil. “Anti-Semitism has no place in our country and we condemn all acts of bigotry, hatred and discrimination against all groups.”
“It is the tree of life to all who grasp it, and to whoever holds on to it is happy. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace,” Radparvar said, citing Proverbs 3:17-18 of the Bible, as the congregation got its name from the concept of the tree of life present in the Hebrew text. “We are connected together as a community through this tree of life tethered together by our roots and united towards a world of peace and harmony.”
According to Hannah Scherl ’19, “Shabbat is a time of light and joy” and it is important to “kindle flames” on the holy day, even when confronted with hostility.
“When we confront hate and darkness in this world, we don’t try to do so with a stick, but rather we add light,” Scherl said. “Because even a small amount of light, a tiny candle has the power to dispel a tremendous amount of darkness.”
Levy Agaronnik ’21 said the shooting should not be seen as a random incident of anti-Semitism, but rather a consequence of the society’s failure to address the growing problems.
“This tragedy is not a random representation of anti-Semitic sentiments that are being held by a few unhinged radical individuals in our country,” Agaronnik said. “This tragedy is compounded by a greater reality that we have been failing to address and acknowledge.”
In Judaism, those in mourning go through a process called shiva that occurs the seven days after a death. According to Samuel Barnett ’19, the vigil was a way for the “community to come together and support [that] process”.
“It’s important to be supportive to Jewish communities and the people who were affected in that week to make sure there is proper closure and support where needed,” Barnett told The Sun. “It’s kind of similar to what you do when a family member dies or a loved one dies, supporting a person in the week after.”
For Julie Green ’19, Judaism is an important part of her life. The people killed at the synagogue could’ve been her family, she said, which is why “we are not going to take it without fighting,” she told The Sun.
On Monday morning President Martha Pollack also issued a statement regarding the incidents over the past few weeks where “victims were targeted for what they believe and for who they are.” She referenced the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation, the bombs that were mailed to public figures in politics and media in the U.S and the shooting of two African Americans by a white supremacist in Kentucky.
“As we mourn the dead and injured and confront the brutality of the crimes, individual members of our community are experiencing shock, anger, fear and sadness,” she said.
Pollack also called for the Cornell community to reach out to one another and to speak out against all forms of hatred.
“At all times, speak out against white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and all forms of bigotry,” Pollack continued. “Let it be known that Cornell stands for their very opposite: for respect, dignity, inclusion, and love.”