Words from a UF Student - Solidarity Vigil

When we hear of these tragedies, we are reminded of the rising anti-Semitism, the rising racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia in our country. We are reminded of how these movements have been given new voices in recent years. We think “how could this happen again” and yet inside we know the answer. Only when we recognize the bigger picture, the true image of what is happening and what is being allowed to happen in our society, can we pave the way for real change.

But while the bigger picture is important, so is the individual. So is the community that has suffered immense loss. Those who were killed Saturday were known to be the epitome of what Tree of Life stands for, they were open arms, smiling faces, generous and caring individuals, known and loved in the community.

Squirrel Hill is a warm, loving community with the Tree of Life synagogue at its core. The Tree of Life building houses two additional congregations, adding to the number of people who called Tree of Life their spiritual home, felt comfortable in their practice, and in the community Tree of Life provided.

Squirrel Hill is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. It is a place where individuals of different backgrounds live, work, go to school, and felt safe. Its inclusivity is intentional and active. It is these values that we must exemplify in this time of mourning, reflecting, and speaking out.

We must speak out not only because a tragedy occurred within the Jewish community, but because tragedies and hate crimes continue to occur in our country. Just Wednesday, a man in Kentucky tried to enter a predominantly black church, and when he was not able to, took the lives of two black people shopping at a local grocery store. Just as the congregants of Tree of Life were killed for their religious beliefs, these two individuals were killed because of the color of their skin. Earlier this week as well, bombs were sent in the mail to news organizations and prominent elected officials. And while no one was killed in this particular act, it raises the point that no one is immune to the violence spurred on by our nation’s division.

It is this thought of the stripping of our immunity that brings us back to Squirrel Hill. This neighborhood, while in a time of immense pain and hopefully one as well of healing, must serve as an example to us of the power of inclusivity, the power that we have when we learn from one another, when we stand for one another, and when we stand with one another. We must see and remember Squirrel Hill and Tree of Life not as lessons to inspire our own personal fear, but as the sanctuaries that they continue to be.

I would like to take a moment to recognize the victims not only of Tree of Life, but of all hate crimes. We take this moment of silence to mourn and to reflect, and we take the moments after to act.

Please join with me in a moment of silence for the victims of these hate crimes, in remembrance of their lives, in acknowledgment of the holes that their deaths have left in their families and communities, and in recognition that only in joining together can we quell this hate.

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