Monday evening a group around 400 people gathered around College Library Mall to hold a vigil for the victims of the shooting that occurred last Saturday in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Jewish synagogue killing 11 people.
Speakers from a variety of creeds, races and ages gathered alongside students to reflect and mourn over Saturday’s shooting. Olivia O’Conner, a Jewish student at UW and resident of the neighborhood that is home to the Tree of Life synagogue, described the area as the home of “Mr. Rogers”.
Both literally and figuratively the Pittsburgh neighborhood is not only the birthplace of longtime children’s television producer Fred Rogers, but is compiled of a variety of Jewish denominations and other creeds.
“You can’t leave the neighborhood without seeing someone you know”, said O’Conner..
Founder of the 100 Black Men of Madison Dr. Floyd Rose shared his personal resonance with the Tree of Life shooting having come from a predominately black and Jewish community. “To my brothers and sisters, know that the African-American community stands with you. When you hurt, we hurt. Know that you are not alone,” he said.
The vigil was organized by Jewish organizations on campus including Hill El and The Chabad House. Rabbi Mendel of The Chabad House noted that he was happy and grateful to see so many people in attendance.
“The sun has tragically set too soon on these 11 lives who have been taken violently while they were celebrating Chabad,” he said. “Dear sisters and brothers, imagine our collective energy has become a cloud — a cloud which needs to produce raindrops and we need these raindrops to saturate our world with positivity, to soak our world with loving kindness and fill our world with light.”
Several speakers highlighted the tragedy of similar shootings and other acts of racism and anti-Semitism in Wisconsin and across the country.
“Saturday’s attack was one of many that has occurred specifically in a house or worship. Vile acts of anti-Semitism cannot be condemned enough. This was an act of terrorism.” said UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank.
One speaker drew a powerful historical comparison analyzing the U.S’s political climate. Ulrich Rosenhagen, the director of the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry, shared a powerful speech. Ulrich recalled a World War I memorial located in his German hometown with names of families still living in his village. He noted there were several names on the plaque he could not identify as people who were still in his village.
“Only much later did I realize these named belonged to Jewish families, who spoke the same German language, shared the same German culture and loved their German fatherland and who’s sons had died for the German nation,” he said. “But none of that protected them from the coming storm. There are many reasons why Nazism took over Germany. One crucial piece, though, was the rapid change in political rhetoric. The brutalization of language, the victimization of Jews and then communists which was eased by a rhetorical climate very similar to the ones in which white supremacists in this country are committing their crimes today.”
UW professor of sociology Chad Alan Goldberg noted the importance of gathering as a community during events of heinous crime citing Emile Durkheim, a French Sociologist and son of a rabbi.
“In moments like this when there is a horrific and heinous crime it is vitally important for the community to publicly come together and reject hatred and reject murder,” said Goldberg.
Tuesday night’s vigil concluded with a Jewish prayer followed by the Jewish prayer song of peace sang in Hebrew that translates to “I shall give peace upon the earth, and you shall lie down with none to make you afraid. I shall abolish from the earth the predatory beast.”