Students and community members from all backgrounds gathered at the Wexner Jewish Student Center at Ohio State’s Hillel on Tuesday night to share prayers, express grief and come together as a community to honor the 11 people killed and six people injured at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
The hour-long vigil started with a candle-lighting ceremony and continued with words from University President Michael Drake, local rabbis, a priest and students. The MeshugaNotes, Ohio State’s Jewish acapella choir, sang a traditional Yiddish lullaby and a song to conclude the vigil. Pittsburgh locals represented their city in hats, shirts and jerseys to show support.
“We express our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives — what a tragedy this is for those families, what a tragedy this is for the Jewish community, but what a tragedy it is also for all of us,” Drake said. “It’s not one community or another community. We are all people together. An assault on one of our communities or another community is really an assault on all of us.”
“We have a chance to participate in our society in ways that help it. Maybe each one of us has a small part of that, but all of us together can actually make a change that is positive and hopeful.”
Rabbi Ilan Schwartz, assistant director of Ohio State Hillel, emphasized the importance of unity and remembering those who died on Saturday as he led prayers and spoke about what it means to be Jewish.
“For better or for worse, Jewish tradition has too many tools that we can draw on in order to respond to tragedy and be comforted in its aftermath,” he said. “The only reason the victims of Saturday’s murders were killed was because they were Jewish. They died in the name of God’s glory, like so many Jews before them in the Holocaust, pilgrims in Europe, blood libels, inquisitions, and crusades, just for being Jewish.”
Schwartz continued by expressing sympathy for all victims of hate crimes. He said everyone gathered was there “in support of the person crying next to us” and to “make sure that the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue and other hate crimes that have occured in our country before and since did not die in vain.”
Joseph Kohane, executive director of Ohio State Hillel, promised everyone that Hillel was a safe space to pray, grieve, talk, cry or even sit in silence. He also emphasized the importance of community.
“The outpouring of concern and love from around the university and the country — it has been amazing and you have power to absolutely reject hatred wherever there is demonizing and dehumanizing of others,” Kohane said.
Billie Kolinsky, a fourth-year in strategic communication and member of the Jewish community, and Hannah Frayman, a fourth-year in graphic design and also a member of the Jewish community, came to speak at the vigil to share and process their grief.
“As we come together on this evening to remember those 11 innocent lives, I want you all to remember that we are all in this together,” Kolinsky said. “We stand here in a moment of community. We are one.”
Frayman said the tragedy in Pittsburgh affected all those that identify as Jewish one way or another.
“No matter how you identify, deep down we are all still connected by identifying as Jewish,” Frayman said. “We cannot let hate win. We must stand as one and move towards a better future.”
Fatimah Alnaseri, a first-year in biology, came to the vigil to support her friends, who are a part of the Jewish community. She said although she is not Jewish, she found the event to be important for people to come together for “something like this tragedy because it affects all of us.”
Schwartz repeated the names of the victims who died on Saturday to remind everyone “they are more just than a symbol for much bigger things, but real people with lives that hit us close to home.”
“Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger were killed because someone could not see their humanity. May their memories be for a blessing.”
Counseling for Ohio State students is available through the Office of Student Life’s Counseling and Consultation — call 614-292-5766 for more information.