Students, religious leaders, faculty, and staff at Northeastern called upon each other to resist hatred on Tuesday, in a vigil to mourn the lives lost in a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and to express solidarity with the Jewish community.
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun was among those who addressed the standing-room-only crowd that filled the university’s Sacred Space and spilled out into the hallway.
“It is our responsibility to make sure that every member of our community feels safe,” Aoun said. “Each one of us has a role to play in making our members of the Jewish community here at Northeastern feel safe. We all are hurt. Let’s go beyond fear, and let’s act. I’m asking you to help and asking you to be engaged.”
It was a call to action echoed by other speakers. Ellis James, a freshman who grew up a block-and-a-half away from the synagogue where 11 people were killed on Saturday, said that he and his family regularly attend services there. The only reason his grandmother wasn’t in the synagogue on Saturday was because a family dinner went late into the night on Friday, and she decided to sleep in.
“Otherwise she would’ve been in the row with Cecil and David,” James said, his voice cracking. He was referring to two of the victims, Cecil and David Rosenthal.
James relayed an anecdote about Fred Rogers, the Pittsburgh native who lived three blocks from Tree of Life, and hosted the popular children’s TV series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Faced with tragedies, Rogers’ mother encouraged him to “look for the helpers,” James relayed.
In the days since the violence, James has found a lot of helpers—friends checking in on him and his family; members of Pittsburgh Islamic groups that have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Tree of Life; vigils that have been held around the globe.
“These are the helpers,” James said. “It doesn’t feel like it was just my neighborhood, or Fred Rogers’. It was all of our neighborhood. Together, we can fight hate. So, be sad. Be angry. But do not hate. Do not let fear paralyze you into doing nothing. Fight hate with love.”
That is the “Jewish response to terror,” said Rabbi Mendy Posner, director of Chabad at Northeastern.
“We do more, we build more, we pray more, and we sing more,” he said. “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness. We all have the power and the ability to change darkness into this world into light.”
Lori Lefkovitz, the director of Northeastern’s Jewish Studies Program, placed the shooting “within the context of open hostility” toward certain minority groups in the United States, and encouraged those gathered to accompany their prayer and reflection with political action.
“Judaism is a religion that evokes right action and good deeds,” she said. “Hate stokes fear, but we must not surrender to fear. As Rabbi Posner reminds us, just a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. I urge you to be light in the darkness.”