Members of the University of Oregon’s Jewish community gathered at the Oregon Hillel house on Monday for a vigil honoring the 11 victims who were killed at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday morning. The shooting is believed to the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history, according to the New York Times.
More than 50 people attended the vigil, including UO President Michael Schill, Jewish student-leaders, rabbis and local members of the Jewish community.
Erica Kopf, the student board president of Oregon Hillel, said that she decided the Jewish campus organization would host the vigil after a friend broke the news of the shooting to her on Saturday. Kopf, a senior sociology and psychology major at UO, said that the vigil was an opportunity for community members to show support.
“I have a close Jewish-friend community,” Kopf said, “so it was really comforting to have them and to have a comforting to have a space like this to come to today because it was just so hard to process at first and this helped to process the tragedy.”
Rabbi Berel Gurevitch, who co-directs the Chabad Jewish Center of Eugene, said he also received a tremendous amount of support from community members.
“The community came together beautifully,” Gurevitch said. “The fact that everyone came together today to say a prayer was very, very special.”
He emphasized that it wasn’t only the Jewish community he received support from, saying that strangers in Eugene asked him how he was. As he drove to Roseburg over the weekend to give a class and hold a ceremony, Gurevitch said a stranger offered him kind words.
Gurevitch, who used to spend summers with family who lived in Pittsburgh throughout his childhood, said he still has a close connection to the city: His mother still lives in Pittsburgh today along with some of his uncles and cousins.
Although Gurevitch now lives thousands of miles away from his mother and extended family, he said he feels like he is part of the community directly affected by the shooting.
“I feel like on some level we’re all part of the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” Gurevitch said “It’s not like there’s a Eugene community and a Pittsburgh community — we’re one community and it felt like it happened right outside our house.”
Despite the events, Gurevitch said that the event will not change anything about how he practices his faith.
“Although this person came into the synagogue with a mind wanting us to hide, the main message is that we fight hate with love and evil with goodness. We’re not going to go and hide, we’re going to stand together as a Jewish community and continue to be proud of who we are,” he said. “We should never hide our Jewishness because of a few crazy people who have these views. We’re here and we’re here to stay.”
Gurevitch started a campaign to distribute mezuzahs, a small decorative display case that holds transcription of verses from the Torah. Members of the Jewish community consider the item a blessing when placed above their door frames.
He said that he already handed out 11 mezuzahs so far, but he plans to continue to provide them to community members who want one.
“The mezuzah brings protection to homes and is a sign of Jewish pride,” Gurevitch said. “Anyone who wants one should reach out.”
On Monday morning, President Schill sent an email to UO students and faculty addressing the Pittsburgh shooting, along with the shooting of two shoppers at a grocery store in Kentucky and a series of pipe bombs sent to current and former public officials last week.
“I want to express my solidarity with all of the groups on our campus who have been the victims of hate and all who share in my outrage at the horrible events of the last week and the current state of affairs in our country,” Schill wrote.
The email also encouraged students to come together at this time and to seek out campus resources if needed. In the email, Schill promoted an openness to new ideas and engaging with new people on campus.
“It is here, at the University of Oregon, where each and every one of us has the opportunity to explore our differences, gain understanding of each other's perspectives, and, with that understanding, hopefully banish demonization and replace hate with empathy and respect,” Schill wrote. “Please expand your usual group of friends and engage in those conversations in the classroom, over dinner, and in the residence halls.”
Hillel’s Kopf echoed the president’s call for the UO and Eugene community to come together during the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shooting.
“I think that this event shows that our community is vibrant and strong and that things like this happen and they’re real,” Kopf said. “It shows the greater community at the UO, Eugene and the U.S. that anti-Semitism is real and that it hasn’t gone away. But the outpouring of support has been awesome.”