By Taneen Momeni

Only three days after the deadliest attack on Jewish citizens in United States history, Maryland Hillel, a University of Maryland organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of Jewish students on campus, held a vigil on the steps of McKeldin Library on Monday, Oct. 29 to honor the lives of those lost in the tragedy. A diverse group of UMD students attended in solidarity with the Jewish community.

With candles placed along the stairs leading to the library, along with supporters holding candles surrounding the steps, a warm glow enveloped the group. In this safe environment, Maryland Hillel allowed student speakers from Pittsburgh, as well as a rabbi, to express their feelings on the act of terrorism that has affected their community.

MJ Kurs-Lasky, student life director for Maryland Hillel and a Pittsburgh native, started the vigil off. He began by describing the neighborhood surrounding the Tree of Life Synagogue, Squirrel Hill, as having friendly people and tree-lined streets. He asked everyone to make our campus feel like a neighborhood, encouraging that we ask our friends, the people in our residence halls, and strangers to be our neighbor.

“‘Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?’” He quoted Mister Rogers, whose hometown was Squirrel Hill.

Nearing the end of his speech, Kurs-Lasky compelled the audience to act: “while moments of silence matter, moments of action matter more.”

After Kurs-Lasky’s speech ended, a rabbi of the Hillel community spoke about mercy. The speech came from a place of wondering at how God is merciful, but the 11 people whose lives were taken on Sunday were not shown mercy.

“God full of mercy, let these 11 souls be that,” the rabbi concluded.

The crowd then stood together as two members of Hillel recounted a prayer in Hebrew. Following that, they read out the names of the people who had passed accompanied by a specific moment of silence for each person.

Another Pittsburgh native, junior finance major Jake Hirshman, described how Tree of Life synagogue had been a place of friendship and community when he was younger. He explained the countless emotions evoked by this tragedy.

“[It] started with shock, [then] turned into a place of fear and anger,” Hirshman said.

The service closed out with a prayer sung in Hebrew that united the crowd as everyone joined in together. A member of Maryland Hillel came to the stage and reminded everyone to reach out to any of the counseling services available in case they needed additional support. Maryland Hillel and the UMD Counseling Center are offering services and can be contacted at (301) 422-6200 and (301) 314-7651, respectively.

Featured Photo Credit: A member of Maryland Hillel encourages the crowd to seek help if needed (Taneen Momeni/Bloc Reporter).

Taneen Momeni is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at taneenm@gmail.com.

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