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At vigil, Northeastern celebrates diversity

A week after the menorah on Northeastern’s Krentzman Quad was vandalized, members of the university community gathered in that spot Thursday afternoon to celebrate the strong ties that unite them beyond boundaries like faith or ethnicity.

“We gather together at a critical moment in our life together,” said Alexander Levering Kern, executive director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service. “We come to condemn thoughtless acts of vandalism to our campus menorah, which have caused great harm not only to our cherished Jewish community members, but to all people of goodwill.”

“What affects one of us,” Kern added, “affects us all.”

With candles in hand, more than 100 Northeastern students, faculty and staff huddled together before the restored menorah — which will be lit at 5 p.m. Saturday evening for the first night of Hanukkah — for reflection, prayer and dialogue.

“This university is our universe, and it is our collective response in the wake of such hurtful acts that will define us and shape our experience of the world,” said Nathaniel Rickles, the board president for Northeastern Hillel and an associate professor of pharmacy practice. “Thank you for standing in support of diversity at Northeastern and demonstrating your solidarity with all of those who repudiate this act.”

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Students from faiths across the university participated in the vigil, with leaders of student groups with a religious focus uniting for an interfaith prayer. Aziz Al-Refai, a senior civil engineering major and president of the Islamic Society of Northeastern University, said the event provided an opportunity for a diverse group of students to support and learn from one another.

“The idea of tolerance, peace and plurality between religious groups is important,” Al-Refai said after the vigil. “It is an opportunity for us to better know one another and stand at each other’s sides.”

Speaking at the close of the ceremony, President Joseph E. Aoun condemned the act of violence but praised the Northeastern community’s response. He encouraged those in attendance to take the lessons from the vigil with them as they left, continuing to build a university made stronger by its diversity and dialogue.

“People of all faiths said what happened here is unacceptable,” Aoun said, “and we are here to not just hear it or say it, but also to live it. It is time for us to proclaim our unity and say we will not accept anything that is done against anyone in our community.”

A university like Northeastern, Aoun said, must be a model for what society can be, not merely a reflection of the community that surrounds it.

“Let’s not forget this moment, and let’s continue to work to be a model for society,” Aoun said. “We can be — and we will be — a model of what society can become.”