The deadliest attack upon the Jewish community in United States history occurred on Saturday, Oct. 27 in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Hillel, a Jewish student organization at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville held a vigil at the Rock–a common place of expression on UT’s campus–on Wednesday, Oct. 31 to mourn the 11 lives lost in the attack.
On Monday, Oct. 29, a similar event was held at the Arnstein Jewish Community Center in Knoxville. With over 600 people in attendance, the Jewish and Knoxville communities came together in order to not only mourn the lives lost, but to spread hope and encourage strength within the community.
Despite this recent attack on the Jewish community, Knoxville Rabbi Yossi Wilhelm said he sees hope for the future.
“I have hope because I look at the turn out tonight. I look at what’s going on in the world. I look at the way people were taken back and hurt in ways that they did something about it,” he said. “And now it’s not just coming to the vigil, but it’s taking that inspiration, taking that pain and translating it into action…I have a lot of faith in the American people.”
During the vigil, many stressed the importance for America to become a safe environment for everyone. In addition to this attack, other hate crimes have occurred recently throughout the country including a white man killing two African American men in Kentucky and mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats who spoke in opposition of President Trump.
“I can’t imagine what it is like to be in America, a place that is supposed to be safe today, and have this devastation,” Joyce York, an editor for the Knoxville Jewish Alliance newsletter, said. “At the same time, I am so hopeful because of people in our community and others have reached out and are fighting bigotry and hatred wherever it is.”
Despite the tragedy that has occurred, the community calls for people to respond by simply being nice to each other, to smile at each other, to hold doors open for each other and to treat people with kindness. Known for being the Torchbearers, UT students strive to act as volunteers and torchbearers themselves as they go through a critical period in their lives.
“We are volunteers and having a volunteer spirit means helping others,” Tara Kear Bain, director of UTK’s Hillel, said.
The vigil ended with a last show of solidarity as the crowd sang “America the Beautiful” after reciting the names of the victims of the shooting. With grief in their hearts, but ultimately seeing hope, the Jewish community and others left the vigil with a determination to act out against hate as they realize they are not alone.
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo
Featured image by Vanessa Rodriguez