The University of Connecticut’s Hillel was packed with mourners and Jewish allies on Sunday night, wielding candles and singing along to prayers as they stood in solidarity with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh after the Synagogue shooting that killed 11 people on Saturday morning. The event was attended by UConn students and members of the greater Mansfield community.
On Saturday morning, a shooter killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, using an AR-15-style assault rifle. The shooter was identified to be a man named Robert D. Bowers, according to the New York Times, and the crime has sparked vigils and mournings in Jewish communities across the United States.
The UConn Hillel vigil began with a presentation, led entirely by student organizers, involving several speeches, prayers and lighting 11 candles to memorialize each victim of the crime. After the indoor portion, attendees went outside for a “walk of peace” around the building, in which participants sang along to prayers and held candles for those lost.
Of the many themes present throughout the night, solidarity and visibility were among the most pronounced.
“It is time to speak out,” Hillel Vice President of Shabbat and Holidays, Joni Weintraub, said in her speech just before the candle lighting. “It is time for our voices to be heard.”
Later, Weintraub added she feels the visibility of the Jewish community is an important aspect to consider during times of tragedy.
“I think it’s, as with any tragedy, really important to memorialize it and to say something about it, not to just let it go unspoken of,” Weintraub said. “I think the way to affect change is to stand up and speak up.”
Rachel Mufson, Jewish education vice president at Hillel, added the size of the Jewish community is an important reason to show support in times like these. With more visibility, Mufson said, the more likely the community is to avoid another crime of this nature.
“I think it’s so important that we need to stick up for one another and be there for our community because we’re such a small community,” Mufson said. “A lot of our friends and family know people who were affected during this tragedy. And since the Jewish community is so small, it’s so important to preserve our religion, it’s so important to preserve who we are and the more recognition we get, the more people start to educate themselves on anti-semitism and get over this hatred based on religion. Eventually we can not have tragedies like this.”
Among the attendees Sunday night was Senator Mae Flexer, Mansfield’s representative in the Connecticut Senate. Flexer said she was disturbed by Saturday morning’s events and acknowledged the historical impact, noting that it was the largest anti-semitic massacre in United States history.
Flexer added putting an end to violence like this starts with reconsidering the leadership and policies present in our country.
“We have to expect more from our leaders. We need leaders who don’t incite hatred and division amongst us. We also need leaders who will fight for sensible gun violence reforms, like the ones I’m proud we have here in the state of Connecticut,” Flexer said. “The kind of weapon that murderer used yesterday would not be able to be purchased here. This was a law we passed five years ago, and I am proud of that, but I wish we could have that kind of action on the national level.”
Allison Zwieg, a first-semester student and active member of Hillel at UConn, said the event was important for attendees, as members of the Jewish community and as students in college.
“We have to show our support and show that it’s not okay for things like this to keep happening and going unnoticed,” Zwieg said. “We really need to help out and show that we’re here for Pittsburgh and any other incident that might happen. It’s important, especially for younger people. A lot of people may think that because we’re younger, we don’t have a voice. But we want to show, even though we’re younger, that we’re in support of them.”
After the event, Mufson added the history of the Jewish community is not to be erased after this massacre. A long history of persecution and violence is the reason it is important the Jewish community get the visibility it deserves, Mufson said.
“Over centuries, we have been persecuted as a people and every single time, we have persevered,” Mufson said. “It’s really important now that we come together more than ever because we are always going to be here. Nothing will ever get rid of us, no matter how many hateful crimes people commit. We are always going to be here.”
Miranda Garcia is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.