Hundreds gather at vigil, mourn victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting


Colin Boyle / The Daily Northwestern

Students and residents gather at The Rock. Hundreds of students with different religious faiths came together the mourn the loss of 11 lives in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

Alex Wong, Reporter

Students and Evanston residents of various religious backgrounds came together in unity at Monday’s candle-lit vigil to honor the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting on Saturday.

At the vigil, organized by Northwestern Hillel, students and Evanston residents gathered around The Rock in hushed mourning. Many emotional attendees shared hugs after the event, which was attended by well over 700 people.

Eleven people were killed Saturday during the Tree of Life synagogue’s Shabbat service when a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs opened fire. The synagogue is in Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The shooting was one of the deadliest against the Jewish community in United States history, The New York Times reported.

McCormick senior Joel Kirshner mourned as he spoke of his Squirrel Hill community in Pittsburgh.

“As we waited for the 11 names of the victims, I knew that our community would never be the same,” he said, surrounded by somber, candle-lit faces. “My loved ones were safe, but three little girls from my summer camp had lost their loving grandmothers. Two purely innocent adult brothers, (whom) my dad knew his entire life, would never again greet the congregants with smiling faces. These 11 losses will be felt forever.”

To Kirshner, the Tree of Life synagogue was a place of celebration and held some of his family’s happiest moments. As he woke up to the news of the shooting on Saturday morning, he said he felt a “sense of hopelessness that evil could penetrate a community that had always been so strong.”

Still, Kirshner finished his speech with a message of love. He said while the community mourns, there has also been an outpouring of support.

“In a world where time and time again we see the worst in humanity,” Krishner said, “there’s still so much love to be shared. Squirrel Hill is the face of that love.”

Colin Boyle / Daily Senior Staffer
Students and residents standing at The Rock. The vigil, organized by Northwestern Hillel, attracted hundreds of students to gather in mourning of victims of the shooting.

Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the leader of NU’s Tannenbaum Chabad House, said he was stunned by the number of attendees at the vigil and echoed Kirshner’s encouragement for solidarity.

“Never have I seen a group of people with such solidarity,” Klein told The Daily. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. The Squirrel Hill shooting has touched the souls of so many people across the globe.”

The vigil opened and closed with Jewish song and prayer, led mostly by McCormick senior Brian Margolis.

Brandon Bernstein, Northwestern Hillel’s campus rabbi, urged the audience to focus on providing support and taking time to grieve.

“Tonight is about us being here together,” Bernstein said. “Remembering, sharing, lending a shoulder to a neighbor, so that those who need to can safely collapse into tears.”

Bernstein led a minute of silence after the reading of the victims’ names, which were also written on 11 empty chairs surrounding a tree by The Rock. Student speeches, including Kirshner’s, followed the minute of silence.

McCormick sophomore Jonathan Frank, who is Lutheran, said he found it important to attend to show support for those most affected by the shooting.

“At my campus ministry we all wanted to go to show solidarity,” Frank told The Daily. “Standing with people affected by the shooting shows that everyone is depending on love.”

Michael Simon, Northwestern Hillel’s executive director, thanked the attendees and offered hope for the future.

“May we come together many more times, in times of joy and in times of celebration,” he said. “May we stand together, whatever comes next.”

A previous version of this story misquoted Michael Simon. He urged attendees to stand together for “whatever comes next.” The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @alexalwwong