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U.Va. Jewish community hosts vigil for victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Killings of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning considered one of the deadliest attacks on the American Jewish community

<p>Truman Brody-Boyd, Hillel Jewish Leadership Council president, and Jordan Bridges, Jewish Voice for Peace president, &nbsp;opened the vigil.</p>

Truman Brody-Boyd, Hillel Jewish Leadership Council president, and Jordan Bridges, Jewish Voice for Peace president,  opened the vigil.

Members of the University community gathered Saturday evening to hold a candlelit vigil in the Amphitheater for the 11 Jewish people killed in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh earlier that day. The vigil was hosted by Jewish Voice for Peace at U.Va. and the Hillel Jewish Leadership Council.

Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old Pittsburgh resident, was identified as the shooter. The gunman’s social media contains anti-Semitic language and a post about the synagogue’s refugee work hours before the shooting. Federal prosecutors charged Bowers with 29 counts of hate crime and firearm offenses Saturday.

There were approximately 50 students and community members in attendance, including Dean of Students Allen Groves. Many parents were also in attendance and spoke as the vigil was held over parents’ weekend.

“We wanted to create a space not only to honor the victims of today’s shooting but also give everyone a space — not only Jews but everyone in the University community to come out and kind of heal and show solidarity,” Truman Brody-Boyd, a fourth-year College student and chair of the Hillel Jewish Leadership Council, said in an interview.

At the start of the vigil, Jordan Bridges, a third-year College student and president of Jewish Voice for Peace, spoke about her Jewish identity and said the community must come together and work for change in light of the tragic event. 

“I just get so nervous that nothing is going to happen after this,” Bridges said. “I don’t need thoughts and prayers — I need change.”

Brody-Boyd also spoke and led the group in saying the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish mourner’s prayer. Students, parents and community members then took turns sharing personal stories and offering words of comfort to the rest of the group.

The Anti-Defamation League, an international civil rights organization that works to fight anti-Semitism, said in a statement that they believe the shooting was “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.” In a separate report, the ADL found a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. in 2017.

“Anti-semitism is very present in America. Jews feel it intensely,” Brody-Boyd said in the interview.

The Hillel Jewish Leadership Council published a Facebook post Sunday morning condemning the attack as anti-Semitic and expressing its support for the University’s community.

“For those murdered, we pray that their memories be a blessing,” the post reads. “For those injured, we pray for their speedy recovery. For their community and for ours, and for all Jews around the world, we pray for an end to anti-Semitism and hatred of all forms. If you need anything in the coming days, weeks, or months, whether it someone to grieve with, rant to, or discuss further actions with, we are here for you.”

University President James Ryan sent an email to U.Va. students after the vigil Saturday night expressing his support for the Jewish community.

“This was likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history, and our thoughts are with the families of those who were killed and injured, as well as the members of the Jewish community around the world who are in so much pain tonight,” Ryan said in the statement.

Ryan also said members of the University community have a role in addressing the violence and bigotry displayed by the shooting.

“This kind of hate and violence goes against everything this country should stand for, and everything for which the University of Virginia will always stand,” Ryan said. “We also cannot ignore the fact that these tragedies have become far too common in recent years, and that it falls to all of us to do everything we can not just to keep our community safe but to prevent hate and bigotry from taking root in the first place.”