William & Mary

Standing in unity: W&M remembers those killed in Pittsburgh

  • Standing in unity:
    Standing in unity:  Students listen to the speakers during Monday night's candlelight vigil.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
  • Standing in unity:
    Standing in unity:  Dozens of W&M and local community members gathered for the candlelight vigil Monday night.  Photo by Erin Zagursky
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Candles flickering in their hands, dozens of faculty, staff, students and community members stood in solemn silence outside of the Wren Building Monday night as eleven names were read.

Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Melvin Wax, Daniel Stein, Irving Younger, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal: all killed by a gunman in an act of hate and anti-Semitism in a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday.

“When I heard about the shooting, I asked myself again, ‘How do you make sense of the senseless?’ I decided that you can’t,” said Kimberly Weatherly, assistant dean and director of the William & Mary Center for Student Diversity. “This is the moment that whatever faith you practice becomes essential. Take time and mourn, talk to friends, call loved ones and become a better person by appreciating and respecting diversity.”

Students share the light of their candles before the vigil. (Photo by Erin Zagursky)The center helped organize the candlelight vigil along with William & Mary Hillel, the university’s Jewish student organization, and Campus Ministers United. The Wren Courtyard was filled with participants, including W&M President Katherine A. Rowe, who comforted one another and shared the light of their candles as several speakers shared their thoughts, a moment of silence was observed and the Jewish song and prayer for peace, Oseh Shalom, was performed

Rabbi Gershon Litt, director of Hillel, said that although anti-Semitism is nothing new, this generation has now experienced the worst single act of anti-Semitism in American history. For those wondering what action can be taken, Litt said to commit to performing acts of kindness in memory of those who were killed.

Rabbi Gershon Litt speaks at the vigil. (Photo by Erin Zagursky)“Before we leave this ceremony today, let us think about that commitment. Let us make a commitment to ourselves so we can move forward and bring back into the world what these people represented,” he said. “My friends, I believe that this, this is our weapon. This is our ammunition that we can deploy right now against bigotry, against violence, and against hatred – that is kindness to others.

“We pray that through these actions, the soul of those who were murdered will be elevated to unbelievable heights. We pray that through slowly changing the world, one act of kindness at a time, we will chip away at the evil that brought about this atrocity.”

Max Blalock, campus minister for the Wesley Foundation, spoke on behalf of Campus Ministers United, saying that they stand together in unity with the Jewish community.

“And we say, enough. We say, no more,” he said. “But sadly … unless things change, there will be more acts like this because people are being targeted by hate. When we stand together, the most radical thing we can do in such an environment like this is embody love and kindness toward everyone, especially those who in our group or our community people want to push to the margins.

“We not only stand together at the margins, we stand in the stead of people who might not be able to stand themselves.”

W&M and local community members fill the Wren Courtyard for the event. (Photo by Erin Zagursky)Alexina Haefner ’19, the president of Hillel, said she wants the Jewish community to feel safe and protected.

“I want this community on campus to feel like a tallit that you can wrap around yourselves when you need support or lift over your head for protection,” Haefner said. “If you need support, know that you community is here for you and that I am here for you, know that you are part of a vast global community that has shown resilience through centuries of oppression and that we will survive and thrive for centuries more.

“Judaism calls on us to use our short time on earth to build a better world, and we will continue to do so no matter what hatred we face.”