People within the BU community held hands, held candles and reflected solemnly on Monday at a Marsh Plaza vigil for the victims of the Saturday morning Tree of Life shooting.
The shooting, where 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue, was a 20 minute attack during a naming ceremony. Federal officials charged Robert Bowers with 29 criminal counts, including several hate crime charges.
“It’s really important that we’re there for each other on every level,” said Jacob Gurvis (COM ’20), one of the organizers of the event. “It’s really important to be an ally. This week it was the Jewish community that was affected. Next week it will be someone else.”
Ariel Stein, a Boston University student and member of the Tree of Life synagogue, said, “Today I am broken,” as she stood in a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and talked about her memories of the synagogue.
“A year ago, I traveled to Auschwitz with some students from all across the country. As my fingers touched the cold barrack walls and my feet planted on the ground of the train tracks, I never thought that my community would be subject to the largest anti-semitic attack in U.S. history,” Stein said. “As Pittsburgh is devastated, there is also so much love. And there is a lot of love today here with all of us.”
Although BU Hillel took the lead on organizing the vigil, leaders from different faith groups on campus also were involved and spoke at the rally.
Campus Rabbi Elie Lehmann said, “It is ok to not feel ok,” amid an “intense rollercoaster of emotions.” BU’s Dean of Students, Dean Elmore, also spoke of how he felt while he affirmed the university’s commitment to helping students heal together.
“On a personal level, I don’t have any words. Again, we have the low flags at half mast,” Elmore said. “We are weary. I know I am.”
The crowd mostly stood silently and many bowed their heads. However, applause erupted when Dean Elmore delivered a personal message.
“Get your asses out there and vote,” he said, to cheers. “Get yourselves out there and volunteer. Get yourselves out there and spend your money so that things like this don’t happen.”
Dean Elmore also mentioned recent politically divisive issues, such as hate speech in online communities.
“It means we’ve got to start to hold ourselves accountable for the words that incite,” he said. “It also means we don’t have to put things on a level in which there are some good people on each side. It’s time for us to stop that. It’s time for us to stop that and it’s time for us to say there is a side that is right.”
After the shooting, debates about freedom of speech, particularly about the social network Gab and about Twitter, began circulating on social media and pieces in newspapers. It is unclear how recent violent events and the free speech debates will affect the midterm elections, which are on Nov. 6.
At the end of the rally, people hugged each other, slowly dispersing. Some walked to the the theology steps for a second smaller vigil afterwards.
“I am very grateful for the students for organizing this vigil,” said Jennifer Knust, a professor in the School of Theology. “They pulled it together so quickly and I’m very glad to be here with my BU community in this very difficult time. So, I just want to say thank you to the students.”
Arianna Adirim-Lanza contributed reporting.