Hundreds gathered for a vigil on the UW campus Monday night to mourn the eleven people who were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue last weekend.
The speakers at the vigil shared their grief, personal hardships, prayers and messages of hope with the four hundred students and faculty who gathered to support the Jewish community on campus.
Everyone who addressed the crowd stressed a need for unity in America, among all faiths and communities. Jon Eckhardt a professor in the U-W school of business and board member of UW Hillel Foundation.
“It is not American to be an anti-Semite,” Eckhardt said. “It is not American to be anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, anti-gay, anti- any race, nor anti- any minority. The attack on Saturday was an attack on our right to live our lives the way we see fit. It is incompatible with who we are as a nation.”
Although mourning the aftermath of an act of extreme hate is what gathered people on campus Monday night, UW senior Julia Brunson says the faces of her classmates and professors meant much more to her.
“I think the most important thing for Jewish students to know is that there’s a community that’s standing in solidarity with them, and sometimes it takes a physical demonstration to show that there’s so many communities intersecting here that have experienced violence before that have felt this kind of pain and this fear before and that we are together in surmounting it,” Brunson says.
In the aftermath since 46-year-old Robert Bowers opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue last weekend, people from all faiths, communities and backgrounds have been reaching out to share their condolences with the Jewish community. Many are also reminded of other acts of violence that have targeted Muslim mosques, African-American churches, and minority protesters.
Maria Ahmad, the assistant director of U-W Multicultural Studies Center, also spoke at the vigil about the need for all religious groups and communities to come together and share peace. After the vigil, Ahmad, who is a Muslim woman, said sometimes voices of hate overpower voices of unity.
“Even though there are so many more moves for unity and anti-hate and fighting back through peace and finding those things, but I think often times it’s drawn out,” Ahmad said. “So I think there’s definitely movements and people are becoming more aware of their own biases and issues that they may have, and they’re exploring that and I think that’s good. But sometimes it’s just disheartening when you’re like I’m doing so much and there are still some people who are not understanding.”
Some students say they are more fearful after the attack in Pittsburgh. UW sophomore Stephanie Blumenthal is a student intern at Hillel on campus.
“I lead reform services at Hillel every Friday, [it’s] is sort of the equivalent of what they were doing on Saturday when a shooter came in and killed them, which is a little terrifying,” Blumenthal says. “So I would be lying if I said I’m not a little scared to go back to Hillel on Friday, but I’m going to do it because that’s what we do. So I guess for me it’s sort of been grappling with that fear, but also knowing that’s what Jews do, we keep going and to me that’s so important.”
The names of each of the eleven victims were read during the vigil. Funerals began in Pittsburgh Monday, drawing thousands to pay their respects.
WORT’s Hannah Weikel reported this story.