Amassing on the Cathedral of Learning lawn on Monday, nearly 3,000 students, faculty and staff of the University of Pittsburgh gathered to acknowledge the Oct. 27 anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life building and demand that such evil be eradicated.
Days before the Nov. 5 vigil, in which t-shirts and signage topped the “i” of “Pitt” with a yellow Star of David above the words “Stronger than Hate,” Brian Burke, president of Pitt Hillel Jewish Student Union, was invited to meet with representatives from the University of Pittsburgh’s administration. Burke attended two planning meetings and, though “honored” to participate in the process, told organizers it was important to “have students speak and emphasize the anti-Semitic nature” of the attack.
There was a “lack of the university coming to terms” with the nature of this atrocity,” he said. “This was not just a Pittsburgh tragedy but a specifically Jewish tragedy.”
The ultimate result, however, was momentous.
“Some people have been wanting to highlight the gun violence nature of this, and that’s very important, but this was not a random mass shooting,” said Burke. “It was a designated attack based on who they are and where they worship. I know that some students were overlooking that.”
Monday’s nearly hour-long event featured remarks from Burke, as well as Zahava Rubin, president of Chabad at Pitt, and Kathryn Fleisher, a student activist and Elsie Honors Scholar who served as president of NFTY prior to enrolling at Pitt. Other speakers included Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Islamic Center Executive Director Wasi Mohamed and others.
Following the event, Rabbi Danny Schiff, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Foundation Scholar, who was among those to address attendees, described the experience.
“To see over 3,000 Pitt students, faculty and staff assemble in support of the Jewish community in whose midst they live was profoundly moving and deeply supportive,” he said. “In the context of Jewish history, Jews have often felt alone, so to see a large community come together to express solidarity with Jewish pain and suffering, it’s a remarkable expression of how leaders in this community think about Jews in their midst.”
Dan Marcus, executive director of Hillel JUC, agreed. He described the event as “deeply powerful and moving.”
In an email to the Chronicle, Gallagher stressed that the Pitt community would remain united in the face of hate.
“The Pitt community stood together in strength to honor those taken from us, to comfort those left behind and to support those who were injured — whether in body or soul — while they heal,” he said. “There is an undeniable power in togetherness. And we as a community must commit to offer a helping hand and practice compassion and love. Together, we can make that commitment last.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.