Vigil for Pittsburgh Synagogue

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Attendees mourn the lives lost at Tree of Life synagogue and send messages to those affected by the attack.
Photo by Christina Bulosan.

Quarry Plaza was busy as always on Monday morning, but amid the typical hubbub, a somber bubble of silence rested on the shoulders of people mourning the loss of 11 lives this past Saturday.

Santa Cruz Hillel held a vigil for the victims of the terrorist attack on Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in Quarry Plaza on Oct. 29. Organizers intended for the vigil to recognize and acknowledge the pain of the events so the local Jewish community and people from all walks of life could begin to process the tragedy.

Several Jewish community leaders took time to speak about the attack and how to remain strong in the face of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El in Aptos recalled some words from her recent homily, which she recounted for the audience in the Quarry.

“I want to assert that I believe in peace,” she said. “I believe in the human capacity for peace and understanding. This is the only way forward.”

White nationalist Robert Bowers opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in the historically Jewish borough of Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27, killing 11 people and injuring six. At time of press, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania had indicted Bowers on 44  charges.

The memorial began with about 50 attendees forming a circle and reciting prayers, alternating between Hebrew and English. Those who spoke Hebrew sang Tehillim, or psalms, accompanied by soft guitar.

After a moment of silence, Santa Cruz Hillel members lit small candles and set them by photographs of the Pittsburgh victims. A poster board and colorful markers stood adjacent to the altar for mourners as well as passers-by to express their condolences to those affected by the shooting.

People of many faiths joined the circle, both students and unaffiliated Santa Cruz community members. Those grieving appreciated the support from the diverse audience at the vigil and they hoped the sentiment was  returned.

“It’s not like I need to be around people of my same religion or ethnicity, but it’s comforting sometimes, especially when something like this happens,” said third-year transfer student and Santa Cruz Hillel member Bobby Alderman. “There were so many non Jewish people standing there. That really hit my heart — it really made  me  happy.”

While the vigil was helpful, Alderman said the best way for the community to process its heartache is through collective  grieving.

“It’s important to talk about it, whether or not you’re Jewish or anything,” he said. “The more you talk about it, the more it makes people aware, and the more it seems real to people.”

For the Jewish members of the audience in Quarry Plaza, visibility is the key to resistance. The recent postings of flyers promoting white supremacy around campus certainly left the community shaken — but it is no reason to live in fear, said third-year and Hillel member Stephanie Bodisco.

Bodisco added there was something to be said for the fact the flyers were distributed anonymously under the cover of night, whereas the people they were attacking made themselves known in broad daylight.

“You have to remember, these people are cowards,” she said. “As long as communities that are feeling [hatred] from this minority of people who decide to push hate outwards, as long as we stand together, they can’t outnumber us and they can’t  silence us.”

Bodisco said after such jarring events, she appreciated having a strong connection to the people around her and being able to rely on a religious support group more than  ever.

“For me, Judaism is as much religious as it is communal and cultural,” she said. “It’s a pillar of Judaism that we are a strong community, we stick together and we persevere. And we celebrate life together.”