University News

University of New Haven Community Honors Those Impacted by Pittsburgh Synagogue Tragedy

The University’s Hillel Club held a vigil to remember those who tragically lost their lives in the Tree of Life synagogue attack, to show its support for those affected, and to reinforce the University’s commitment to fostering a community built on a shared respect for one another.

November 8, 2018

Martin O’Connor ’76
The University of New Haven’s Hillel club held a vigil recently to remember the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue attack.

Jessica Deer ‘20, president of the University of New Haven Hillel Club, says the organization was created to give Jewish students a voice and a sense of community. The group accomplished both of those goals as it hosted a vigil on campus to show its support for those impacted by the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

"I’m angry about what happened," Deer said at the vigil. "I’m sad. Most of all, I’m sad because I’m not shocked."

Martin O’Connor ’76, the University’s campus chaplain, began the ceremony by reciting the names of the eleven individuals who lost their lives at the synagogue. The names were prominently displayed for the duration of the vigil, and candles were lit to honor them.

President Steven Kaplan spoke poignantly about experiencing antisemitism as a Jewish child growing up in the Midwest. Later, he and his stepfather, a close friend of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who many credit with saving the lives of more than 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, interviewed survivors of the Nazi regime’s persecution. Kaplan said the tragedy in Pittsburgh hit close to home.

"As a Jew who spent almost 14 years of his adult life living in Germany, a country once consumed by antisemitism to a point of unprecedented genocide, I never once felt as vulnerable as I suddenly feel right now in my own country," he said.

"I’m angry about what happened. I’m sad. Most of all, I’m sad because I’m not shocked." Jessica Deer ‘20

President Kaplan encouraged members of campus community to continue to consider what their role can and should be in ensuring that their communities – near and far – represent the values of a caring, safe, and empathic society.

"While instances of hate still linger in Germany today, I can say based on my own experience living there is that they learned the lessons from their horrible past," he said. "It is incumbent upon us to do the same."

Similar vigils have been held across the country since the tragedy. The vigil at the University, which also included Jewish leaders from the Greater New Haven community, was held to unite everyone against violence, hate, and discrimination. Rabbi Mendy Hecht of Orchard Street Shul, Congregation Beth Israel in New Haven, read two psalms – both in Hebrew and in English.

"Hate and anger will not win," concluded Deer. "Jews will continue to stand strong."