University community gathers for vigil in aftermath of anti-Semitic shooting

Pittsburgh Synagogue Vigil (16)
Community members gather for a vigil in the wake of yesterday’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

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When Jesse Sattler, a Jewish student at the university, heard that 11 Jewish people were killed during worship at a Pittsburgh synagogue yesterday, he was heartbroken.

“When something like this happens, no matter who it is or what it is, it’s just really hard,” Sattler said.

Jonathan Kopf , also a Jewish student at the university, said the shooting was a reminder that no place — even areas known to be quiet and peaceful, such as the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where the shooting occurred — is completely safe, and that any synagogue could face similar horrors.

Yet, none of this stopped these students, community members, local religious leader and Delaware politicians from gathering on The Green on Sunday afternoon for a vigil to reflect on the loss of the 11 people killed in Pittsburgh.

The shooting is being considered the most violent anti-Semitic act in U.S. history and has spiked tensions across the nation, occurring within the larger trend of mass shootings that have plagued the country. The shooting occurred amid a vitriolic election season as Midterm elections near, just after pipe bombs were delivered to prominent critics of President Donald Trump this past week.

The crime’s suspect, Robert Bowers, 46, killed 11 and injured six with an AR-15 rifle — the weapon of choice among many mass shooters — acting on what his online activity has revealed to be a series of anti-Semitic and anti-immigration conspiracy theories.

The university, with a Jewish student population of nearly 13 percent, faced a different anti-Semitic incident nearly a year ago, in which an anti-Semitic poster connected to a white nationalist group was found outside of Kirkbride Hall. At the time, the administration was criticized for its response, which many considered inadequate.

Pittsburgh Synagogue Vigil (18)

In response to the Squirrel Hill shooting, President Dennis Assanis delivered a letter to the student body via email this afternoon, offering support and advertising the vigil.

“On behalf of the whole University of Delaware, I want to extend our sincere condolences to all those families and friends affected by this horrific and divisive act, including members of our own UD community who are of the Jewish faith,” the letter stated.

The letter proceeded to delineate the university’s commitment to inclusivity and creating a “safe and supportive environment” for all members of the university community. The email included a hyperlink to the “UD Values” webpage.

According to Sattler, the university’s response to yesterday’s shooting has been commendable. He noted the sense of security at the event and appreciated the opportunity to join with the local Jewish and campus communities in solidarity.

The vigil featured appearances by numerous local rabbis, who stressed a message of resilience and unity. Rabbi Nick Renner, a senior Jewish educator at the university’s Hillel Kristol Center for Jewish life, recalled a recent conversation with a student whose hometown suffered a school shooting.

“Yesterday I reached out to him, and in the course of connecting with him, I remarked that ‘we just had this conversation,” Renner said. “And, in a tragic sense, at some level it’s also a Jewish conversation. Ours is a people that has known loss. We have known suffering at the hands of anti-Semitism.”

U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) spoke at the vigil, as did Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and Gov. John Carney. Both Rochester and Carper are up for reelection next week.

Blunt Rochester paused at the podium before delivering a brief, emotional speech.

“We are heavy hearted,” Blunt Rochester said. “We hear that term a lot, and I can tell you that, what that feels like is to have a boulder on you to the point that you can’t breathe.”

Pittsburgh Synagogue Vigil (29) Minji Kong/THE REVIEW
U.S. House Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester speaks at the vigil.

She brought a message of unity and resisting the “weariness” that this incident and others have brought upon many, imploring the audience to resist hate and to “love thy neighbor.”

“No exceptions,” Blunt Rochester said. “No exceptions. No exceptions.”

Other speakers included local Catholic, Protestant and Islamic leaders, as well as other members of the Delaware Jewish community. Jewish songs and prayer were performed at the vigil.

Hannah Greenberg, the lone student speaker and a student director at Hillel, appeared near the end of the vigil, reciting a poem written by Hannah Senesh, a poet and WWII paratrooper who died fighting Nazi Germany.

While Jewish students in attendance noted the strength and support of the local community and cited reasons for optimism, insisting that moments like this make the Jewish community stronger, Kopf couldn’t help but think of darker connections to Nazi Germany.

“I just really hope that this doesn’t become a trend,” Kopf said. “Because once this started in Europe, it just kept going on, and we need to make sure that this is a one-time thing.”

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