For Jewish Students On Campus, The Pittsburgh Shooting Was Tragic — And Unifying
In response to the horrific synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, we asked three of the Forward’s Campus Ambassadors to tell us how they are dealing with the tragedy in their universities and home communities. Their responses are below.
What was your reaction when you heard the news of the shooting in Pittsburgh? Where were you and what were your initial thoughts?
Eden Lichterman (Northwestern Class of 2020): When I heard the news of the Pittsburgh shooting, my thoughts immediately went to my Uncle Avi, who served as the Rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue years ago. That synagogue was the childhood home of my cousins, the place where one of my cousins had her baby naming.
As I sat in the library, scouring the Internet for updates and texting my family, my heart was broken and my gut was tight. I was scared; I was angry; I was confused. I couldn’t believe that this was happening, and I just wanted to wake up from this terrible nightmare.
Cameron Katz (Emory Class of 2021): As much as I hate to say it, when I heard the news of the Pittsburgh shooting, I was not as shocked as some of my fellow students.
How are we supposed to feel the depth of a tragedy such as the one in Pittsburgh when violence and hatred surround us every day?
My feelings were consumed by numbness and pessimism.
For so long, I think that we felt things had changed and that our society was moving forward with the fight against terror.
But, as we have seen throughout the history of this country, whenever we take two steps forward, we always seem to take one step back.
Ocean Noah (San Francisco State University Class of 2021): I discovered the news on social media. My response was cerebral. I put the “fighting against anti-Semitism” banner on my Facebook profile picture. Some of my friends and family checked in on me.
“Yes, I’m okay,” I said, “crazy isn’t it?”
“Crazy” is the most detached thing I can say about something I am unable to process.
I avoided feeling the pain of this shooting by diving into my schoolwork and extracurriculars. I feel afraid to approach it. I feel guilty for having the privilege to ignore it. I feel proud of my community for taking the pain and channeling it to make a change.
How have your home community and campus community been responding?
EL: I am so proud to be part of the Northwestern community.
On the Monday following the attack, hundreds of Northwestern community members, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, gathered at the rock, our campus meeting place, to mourn and remember the lives of the 11 people killed in the massacre.
Candles in hand, we listened to people speak, read the names of the victims, chanted the mourner’s kaddish and prayer for healing and held each other as we participated in a moment of silence.
I was moved to tears by the outpour of support from the Northwestern community, and I was so grateful to have such a strong and supportive community to fall back on in a time of such despair.
While I was not on campus this past weekend, Northwestern Hillel also participated in #solidarityshabbat, coming together on Friday night to find the strength to keep moving forward.
I am also proud of my home community in Metro Detroit.
My parents attended a vigil at my synagogue, Beth Shalom, where community members came together to mourn the tragedy and band together in solidarity.
Rather than shying away in the face of resistance, both my campus community and home community raised their voices, showing me that this terrible event will not define who we are as a Jewish community and how we proceed.
CK: On the Monday after the shooting, the Office of Religious and Spiritual life held a vigil where we heard from the head of Hillel’s Shabbat Committee and members of the Pittsburgh community, and received words of solidarity from other religious organizations on campus.
Though the vigil was absolutely heartbreaking, I felt lifted up by the sense of community shown on our campus. I am also taking a history class this semester called Ethnic Experiences in America. We recently discussed the arrival of Jewish immigrants, and so the beginning of our class was devoted to a discussion about the Pittsburgh shooting, as well as the shooting in Kentucky that targeted black Americans.
Additionally, on the Shabbat after the shooting, my Hillel hosted an interfaith dinner with the Buddhist monk community on Emory’s campus. To me, this Shabbat was one of the most beautiful that we have held. The Buddhist monks in attendance emphasized the power of respectful dialogue, peace, and human connection. It was refreshing to be in the presence of such harmonious inter-religious conversation, especially in the wake of the tragic events in Pittsburgh.
ON: San Francisco State University hosted a dialogue to discuss the political tension in the air, which wasn’t specifically to discuss Jewish issues, but was clearly prompted by the shooting.
San Francisco Hillel hosted a healing-themed Shabbat dinner with comfort foods and space to process any emotion about the shooting. One of the students associated with San Francisco Hillel formed a club on campus to combat white supremacy.
On November 5, San Francisco State held a vigil on campus.
People spoke and students read the life stories of those whose lives were taken.
The speeches were poignant, reflective and inspiring. We lit candles, passed out black ribbons and sang hinei ma tov.
I wasn’t planning on attending this vigil at all. I felt anxious because my thoughts about the shooting were not matching up with what people were saying on Facebook or in person.
After much hesitation, I decided to show up. I was honored to be asked to speak on the account of where Jews of Color fit in the picture of this tragedy.
I shared that I felt conflicted. I felt that I couldn’t mourn Jewishly, and also acknowledge the pain from shootings in other communities, in the same space.
After my speech, I was received with love and hugs. I felt more deeply connected than I had felt for a few weeks, since I had been avoiding Hillel and the shooting because of my internal conflict.
I didn’t even know that I needed to talk about what I was feeling, nevermind share it in front of all of those people. I suppose I assumed that I was alone and invalid. But Hillel gave me a platform to voice my experiences, without my asking. I am forever grateful to them.