Jewish community honors victims of Pittsburgh shooting, ensures students’ safety


A student holds a candle during a vigil on Oct. 29, 2018 for the victims of the Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue shooting, where a gunman opened fire on worshipers. 

Robyn Berardi

Jewish organizations gathered with students, faculty and community members Monday to remember the lives lost in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and to ensure Jewish students feel safe on campus.

Members of Hillel, Chabad, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Students Supporting Israel held a vigil Monday on Risman Plaza to commemorate the 11 people killed and at least six others injured during a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Saturday.

According to a statement by the Anti-Defamation League, this is believed to be, “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”

Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin of Chabad began the vigil by explaining to the crowd that tragic events like this bring the Jewish community closer together and make them stronger.

“When people try to attack the Jewish nation, they don’t realize what we are made up of,” Sasonkin said. “We are indestructible; we are unbreakable.”

Lauren Novick, the student board president of Hillel, said she was shocked when she heard about the shooting, but she will not let it diminish her faith.

“I am and always will be an unapologetic Jew,” Novick said. “I am not going anywhere, and instead of hiding after these tragedies, I become stronger and prouder.”

For junior human development and family studies major Leah Popkin the shooting hit close to home. She is a member of Hillel and is from Wexford, Pennsylvania, a community just outside of Pittsburgh.

“We would drive into the city to go to a temple that was just a few blocks away from Tree of Life,” Popkin said. “I spent the first five years of my life there and Pittsburgh has and always will be the hub of my Judaism.”

Popkin said her family “indirectly knew” two of the people killed in the shooting.

“My parents spent break-the-fast this year with the daughters of one of the victims of [Saturday’s] horrific shootings,” Popkin said.

Hillel plans to offer more security to ensure students’ safety on campus, said Adam Hirsh, the executive director of Hillel.

“It’s really unfortunate that we need to be more cautious, but we will be,” Hirsh said. “So, we’ll have a police officer at Shabbat services this week, and whatever students feel like they need in order to be supported by our community, we’ll try to enable it for them.”

The shooting has caused a heightened sense of awareness that this could happen anywhere, Popkin said.

“My entire Jewish identity is based in Pittsburgh, and I feel as if my whole identity has been attacked,” she said.

Rabbi Michael Ross, a senior Jewish educator at Hillel, said, moving forward, it is important to increase dialogue and listening.

“After the blessings, we can now begin to peek at the future and begin to think about hope and taking the next steps forward,” Ross said.

 Robyn Berardi is a diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected].