Thirteen yahrzeit candles flickered in the night on Nov. 1 on Wheaton’s campus. Their wick burned both in remembrance and mourning. Their light shed upon yet another tragedy to occur on American soil. According to the New York Times, eleven innocent lives were taken Oct. 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Members of the Tree of Life Synagogue congregated that Saturday morning as usual. However, their services were disrupted by Robert D. Bowers, who in possession of an AR-15 assault weapon and three handguns, opened fire on the crowd. Bowers was reported to be simultaneously shooting and shouting offensive slurs towards the Jewish community and immigration. Bowers was eventually detained by the police. His actions inflicted wounds on six individuals and took the lives of eleven others. Bowers is now charged with 11 counts of using a firearm to commit murder and multiple counts of a series of hate crimes.
The effect of this tragic act of hate did not go unrecognized. Wheaton’s division of Hillel (a national Jewish student organization) combined efforts with the Jewish Life theme house to organize a candlelight vigil, honoring the lives stolen and bringing awareness to the issues revolving around the occurrence.
Rosie Pofcher ‘19, the co-president of Hillel on campus, shared her thoughts regarding the event. “If you have any connection in the Jewish world, [the shooting] was everywhere. Yet, I know tons of people who didn’t know anything about it. I hope it brought light to the greater Jewish community in the United States that feels very targeted and the rest of the communities that are feeling targeted.”
The vigil on Nov. 1 invited all members of Wheaton and the surrounding community to gather in the dimple. All attendees received a candle. The ceremony consisted of a speech by Rabbi-Professor Brumberg-Kraus, and a recitation of a poem written by his son in reaction to the shooting.
The microphone was then opened to anyone who desired to speak. The ceremony finished with a reciting of the traditional Jewish prayer, Mourner’s Kaddish, and El Malei Rachamim, a song of prayer in remembrance for those specifically hurt by racial violence. The event, though mainly in response to the synagogue shooting, was also dedicated to the memory of the two men recently shot and killed in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.
Jeanne Bedard ‘22, who attended the vigil, reflected that “it was very powerful to see a large portion of the Wheaton community come together to remember the victims, despite the fact that this type of tragedy occurs all too often.”