UA holds vigil for victims of Pittsburgh tragedy

University of Arizona senior and Hillel student leader Calli Bagshaw lights a candle at the UA Hillel Foundation vigil for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Oct. 29. (John de Dios /UA News)

The University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, Chabad, and Jewish Arizonans on Campus held a vigil on the UA Mall Monday, Oct. 29 for the 11 victims of the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Participants observed a moment of silence, sang prayers and lit candles for all 11 victims while their names were read aloud.

Hillel Executive Director Michelle Blumenberg led the ceremony and gave the opening remarks to the crowd, encouraging the audience to write notes and prayers on an easel pad that would be sent to Pittsburgh.

“When a community comes together it shows their resolve to move forward and not be beaten down,” Blumenberg said. “But perhaps most of all it brings comfort and helps us to share our grief with one another. “

UA Acting Provost Jeffrey Goldberg talked about being connected to the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh by family and friends and the cascade of emotions he felt in reaction to the news.

He hoped the tragedy would inspire others to promote positive change.

“I absolutely think that there will be a tipping point where more people will either have that anger or say, ‘This is not the way we want to do things,’” Goldberg said. “That tipping point will cause real change in our society.”

Rabbi Moshe Schonbrun of Jewish Arizonans on Campus related his feelings to a scene from “The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking,” where the main character is carried away by a river and must grab onto a branch from a tree to keep from being swept down a
water fall.

“That branch is a tree of life that we hold onto, that tree of life, King David was referring to the Torah, our constitution and our very heartbeat,” Schonbrun said. “No matter what times we’re faced with, we have something to hold onto, to guide us.”

Schonbrun said that even though this is a time of mourning, it is important to remember that it is the Jewish response to spread godliness in this time of tragedy and take care of others.

“They can’t continue now,” Schonbrun said, referring to the victims, “but we can commit ourselves to values of kindness, values of love and hope. Instead of finger pointing, we can reflect and try to make change in the world…that is our tree
of life.”