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Memorial candles are lit at the Pittsburgh vigil.

By David Veldran

Last night, the University’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL) hosted a packed vigil for the victims of the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Due to rain, the vigil was held in McCosh 50, the largest lecture hall on campus, which still struggled to accommodate all attendees. Hundreds of people — students, professors, staff members, and community members — poured in to honor the lives of the 11 victims and to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community against anti-Semitism.

The event consisted of a series of speakers and short performances, which together created a somber yet hopeful atmosphere emphasizing unity and hope.

University community fills the McCosh 50 auditorium for the Pittsburgh vigil.

Rabbi Julie Roth, the Center for Jewish Life’s executive director, opened by expressing her gratitude that so many people, Jews and non-Jews alike, had come together in this difficult time.

Immediately after Roth spoke, Vice President of Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun told the audience, “Your presence here tonight is an encouraging sign for us all that we, the Princeton community, will always stand up for our collective humanity, the rights of individuals and groups.”

In a moving part of her speech, Calhoun quoted from the song “Why Shouldn’t We” by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

“We believe in things we cannot see. Why shouldn’t we? And we believe in peace within every heart. Why shouldn't we? And we believe in things that will give us hope,” Calhoun recited.

She added at the end, “We should, and we must [believe]. We must continue to believe in each other, in our values, and our strengths,” reiterating Carpenter’s message.

Isabel Segel ’22 and Dean of the College Jill Dolan, both from Squirrel Hill, echoed a theme of hopefulness in their remarks.

Segel is a contributing copy editor for The Daily Princetonian.

Segel admitted that the past week was difficult. She described the intense feelings of fear she experienced last Saturday morning when she abruptly learned about the shooting and scrambled to find out if her family was safe. But she praised her community’s resilience along with the “outpouring of support from around the world” it received.

Dolan followed, describing her personal connections to several victims and explaining that places like a local Jewish community center and the Tree of Life synagogue were intended to be sanctuaries from intolerance.

She then tied the events in Pittsburgh to current political questions, bringing up the 2015 shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston and citing dangers of anti-immigration rhetoric.

“Don’t those who want to worship and those escaping poverty and violence deserve a sanctuary?” she asked, referencing recent news coverage and political discourse surrounding a Latin American immigrants headed to the United States.

Making a similar point, Rabbi Eitan Webb, the director of the Scharf Family Chabad House, asked the audience to observe a moment of silence but emphasized that the silence should motivate action.

“Our silence tonight is not the stillness of indecision. It is the silence of decisiveness,” he said.

The vigil then shifted from movement to memory, and Koleinu, the Jewish a cappella group on campus, sang Oseh Shalom, or “Song of Peace,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” 

Koleinu was followed by Rabbi Ira Dounn of the CJL, leading the audience in the Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer in memory of the departed.

In a touching moment, a group of student leaders at the CJL read short biographies about each of the victims, noting small things about them like their sense of humor or their love for the Pittsburgh Pirates, to witness the character of each person taken from the community.

Students said they found the vigil moving.

“It’s comforting to see such a high turnout to commemorate the lives taken by this national tragedy,” Gabe Lebeau ’22 said. “Even through the horrors of recent events, we were able to end the vigil on a hopeful note.”

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