Organizations from all across the Oxford community came together on Monday to hold services in memory of the lives lost at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania.
This past Saturday, Oct. 27, 11 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on the congregation in the small town near Pittsburgh. The massacre was declared a hate crime, and Miami University President Gregory Crawford condemned the attack in a public statement.
Crawford said he was “horrified at the hate-fueled acts of violence we have seen during the past week,” in the statement released on Monday morning.
“Let us stand together with all who face anti-Semitism, bigotry and violence, and commit ourselves to peace, mutual respect, celebration of differences, and common good in a community where everyone can thrive,” Crawford said.
Immediately after the national news broke, Oxford’s President of the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life, Daniela Reuter, began to plan that same afternoon for a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the shooting.
“Once I heard about what happened, I went through all of the crazy emotions,” Reuter said. “The next thing that I thought of was what we were going to do, as Hillel, and as the group…to connect with people and show our solidarity.”
The program began at the Hillel Center on Walnut St. where people arrived to receive candles before their walk to the Seal at the center of campus. There, the program would continue with the Mourners Kaddish, a traditional prayer said after someone has passed, in remembrance of them.
“We wanted to start at our Jewish location, and then move to our Miami location,” said Reuter. “We wanted to show that we not only are mourning for the victims as members of the Jewish community but also as Miami students.”
The vigil itself was not just to mourn the lives lost, but allowed students to stand together and be proud to be a part of the Jewish community.
Earlier in the evening, Amy Shaiman, Miami alumna and Oxford resident, organized a program in Oxford Memorial Park, where participants, both young and old, recited a “Not in Our Town” pledge.
The “Not in Our Town” national initiative began months prior to the Pittsburgh attacks.
“We actually started talking about this a year or so ago,” said Shaiman. “Part of this movement means doing something when this kind of hate occurs or, if possible, doing something to prevent it.”
Shaiman wanted the “Not in Our Town” event to be an open discussion, but she gave parents the opportunity to keep their children out of earshot as she discussed the more intense details of the shootings.
“They have a goal of tearing us apart, and we have seen it in history over and over again,” said Shaiman. “We say no to hate, and no to people trying to tear our community apart.”
Throughout the week, the Jewish Heritage Program (JHP) will focus on providing comfort and solidarity to those affected by the shooting. With the help of the Chabad Jewish Student Center, the JHP will be setting up tables in the Armstrong Student Center for people to write letters to the families of the victims of the shooting.
“We wanted to write to the community in general,” said Olivia Marcus, a member of the JHP. “We wanted to let them know that our thoughts and prayers are always with them.”
The focus of this project is to connect the students on campus to those mourning in Pennsylvania, Marcus said.
“We wanted to get the community involved, and show that even though it happened far away, this tragedy still affects everyone,” said Marcus. “It doesn’t matter where we are. The Jewish community will always stand together.”
This emphasis on solidarity rang true for Rueter as well, which she said was exactly what she was trying to convey when organizing Monday night’s commemoration and candlelight ceremony.
“I think these programs are extremely important, not only for the individuals who passed, or for just our campus, but for the Jewish community on a nationwide level,” said Reuter. “In the Jewish community, if you affect one of us, you affect all of us.”
Throughout the next week, JHP will still be sending letters to the families of the victims in Pennsylvania and can be contacted through their service chair Leah Weiss firstname.lastname@example.org.