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In response to the shootings at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27 that killed 11 congregants during their Sabbath service, UNC Hillel held a Stand Together Against Hate Solidarity Gathering. Several hundred people gathered at the Pit for the Nov. 1 vigil to hear from UNC senior leadership, NC Hillel staff and students, and community leaders about the importance of uniting against hate.

During the ceremony, a dozen empty white folding chairs with the names and ages of the Tree of Life victims were placed side by side to represent the 11 lives lost, as well as one chair for all others whose lives were lost to violence. Following Jewish tradition, a stone was solemnly placed on each chair as their names and descriptions were read aloud, which served to help connect the mourners with the fallen. Mourners were also invited to light candles for the victims.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt expressed sympathy for the family, friends and community of those killed, as well as the four officers wounded in the attack. “We have seen this story too many times,” she said. “Too many killed, too much hate. Silence is a trap, but we are listening and we look to you to find the right path. When you try to help people in a time of tragedy, you find that these people help you.”

Indeed, support from Carolina’s Jewish community’s neighbors has been swift. Reverend John B. Rodgers, campus minister, Presbyterian Campus Ministries – as well as other clergy – showed their support at the vigil, vowing to continue to reach out to their Jewish brothers and sisters. Farris Barakat, founder of the Light House Project and brother of Deah Barakat, the UNC dental student who, along with his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister, Razan, were gunned down in a hate crime, spoke of his unique connection to people who go through tragedy. “My work now is to turn darkness into light,” he said.

This sense of kehillah, or community, is a major focus of Judaism. NC Hillel and Chabad have made certain that UNC students feel that they are not alone: Michelle Brownstein Horowitz, associate director, NC Hillel, stressed that we must “fight against bigotry and hatred in all its forms;” Dr. Adam Goldstein, chair, NC Hillel Board and professor, UNC Family Medicine, spoke of Hillel’s comprehensive strategic plan to combat anti-Semitism; Yehudis Bluming, co-director, Chabad of UNC, offered a mezuzah, the very visible affirmation of Judaism that goes on doorposts, to all UNC students so that they can freely and proudly declare their Judaism while imploring the group to “commit to one extra act of goodness and kindness to spread love, peace and light;” and UNC Law student Maya Weinstein reminded us that these commonplace acts of violence are “abnormal even though it’s been normalized,” noting that “Jews have always shown up for others to fight against hate and injustices.”

NC Hillel’s Rabbi, Melissa B. Simon, and Jewish student leaders Chelsea Deitelzweig and Emily Kramer led the Hebrew prayers for healing and mourning. As rain threatened, the ceremony ended with a cappella group, UNC Achordants, linking their arms across their shoulders, as they sang a very touching version of Lean on Me, incorporating the lyrics from Oseh Shalom, the Jewish prayer for peace.

To take a pledge against hate and view a list of campus allies, click here.

We Remember the Victims

Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69
Maurce Stallard, 69
Vickie Jones, 67

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