In the aftermath of a mass shooting on Saturday that killed 11 and injured six at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Binghamton University students and local community members gathered on Monday night to pay their respects to the victims and show solidarity in the face of hatred.
Approximately 750 students and local community members of all faiths filled the Jewish Community Center of Binghamton for the vigil. The event was organized by Jewish organizations in the local area, including Hillel at Binghamton, Chabad at Binghamton, Temple Concord, the Jewish Community Center of Binghamton and Temple Israel of Vestal.
According to Rabbi Marley Weiner, senior Jewish educator at BU, the religious groups immediately began organizing the vigil after hearing the news about the Pittsburgh shooting. The shooting, which took place inside the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, began when Robert Bowers, 46, opened fire during the Sabbath prayer service. According to The Wall Street Journal, the shooting marks the largest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. Bowers now faces charges of hate crime and firearm offenses.
Weiner said it was important to unify as a community in order to overcome hate.
“In times of despair, there is nothing that stands against hate better than solidarity,” Weiner said. “Inviting the whole community together is a powerful reminder that those who stand on the side of love are so many more than those who stand on the side of bigotry. Judaism teaches us that it is best to grieve in a community and be surrounded by those whom you love.”
The vigil began with opening remarks by Sima Auerbach, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Broome County, followed by a performance by Kaskeset, BU’s Jewish a cappella group. The room’s stage also featured a display of 11 memorial candles in honor of the 11 victims.
Both student and local leaders spoke at the vigil, leading the attendees in prayer and song and discussing the way to cope with the tragedy. Kymel Yard, ‘12, vice president of the Broome-Tioga chapter of the NAACP, said in times of grief, there is a strong need for community, and an attack on one community is an attack on all communities.
“I hope we all leave here and we erase our fears so we can courageously and righteously love each other [and] destroy hatred so we don’t have to get together in these moments of grief, sadness and mourning,” Yard said.
Several attendees said they were horrified when they heard about the shooting. Eileen Orringer, 77, of Endicott, said she was devastated to hear of something so tragic happening in a place of worship.
“It’s unthinkable that it would happen there,” Orringer said. “To have to be afraid to pray is just so horrible.”
Sandra Forman, 79, of Endicott, is originally from Pittsburgh and said she was worried about her old community when the news broke.
“We’ve just been glued to the television and [it] turns out [that] we knew some of the people,” Forman said.
Throughout the vigil, leaders and attendees emphasized the need for community unification and using love to overcome fear and hatred. Cristina Zirilli, a junior majoring in psychology, said the vigil showed her the value of community.
“What I took away from this vigil was that the most important thing in this world is to love and take care of each other, because without that, we don’t have anything,” Zirilli said.
According to Danielle Rubin, a junior majoring in human development, the vigil was special to her and reinforced her pride in her faith.
“This tragic event affected me and many people close to me,” Rubin said. “Being Jewish is something I value beyond words, and the community coming together in this time was so special.”