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‘We will not let fear divide us.’ Synagogue shooting victims honored at Penn State vigil

Rabbi Gourarie honors those whose lives were cut short at the Tree of Life synagogue

Chabad of Penn State and Penn State Hillel hosted prayers for Pittsburgh to bring students and the community together on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018 to honor those who were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue over the weekend
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Chabad of Penn State and Penn State Hillel hosted prayers for Pittsburgh to bring students and the community together on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018 to honor those who were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue over the weekend

Songs and prayers rang out in the cold night Monday as several hundred members of the Penn State and State College community gathered in front of Old Main for a candlelight vigil to remember the Squirrel Hill mass shooting victims.

“The only way to respond to darkness is with light. We are resilient. We are resolute. We are here for you. We are united,” Aaron Kaufman, executive director of Penn State Hillel, said. “Together, only together, we are Penn State.”

On Saturday, a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The shooter reportedly expressed hatred of Jews during the massacre and later told authorities, “I just want to kill Jews” and “All these Jews need to die,” according to the Associated Press.

It’s believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history, according to a statement from the Anti-Defamation League.

“The deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue was heartbreaking, tragic and chilling in its display of hatred for those who practice the Jewish faith,” Penn State President Eric Barron said. “Horrific acts such as this can make you question the humanity of people and instill fear and suspicion and anger. At a moment like this, I think it’s important to remember the values of those at the Tree of Life synagogue: love and compassion and community and support for one another.

“There is no place for hate in a place of worship, at a school or a neighborhood; there is no place on our campuses, there is no place for hatred in this nation.”

Students from Squirrel Hill lit 11 candles — one for each victim lost to the senseless violence.

Three students with personal connections to Tree of Life spoke. Jordan Rabner and Zeva Young both had their bat mitzvahs there. Ezra Gershanok recalled memories of the victims, like the “warm grin” on David Rosenthal’s face and “strength” of Rose Mallinger.

Gershanok also spoke about his grandmother, who he said was born in 1938 in Odessa, Ukraine, and her father was killed by secret police because he was Jewish. She faced intolerance and discrimination throughout her life because of her faith.

On Saturday, Gershanok said his “babushka” woke up to the sounds of gun shots and sirens in Squirrel Hill.

“My babushka has been running her whole life in search of a safe place to be Jewish. Again, she is worried for her safety. For me, today is different. I have never felt like a target before. I feel like the chai we wear on our necks, the Hebrew letters on our shirts and the kippahs on our heads are all bull’s-eyes to evil people that I thought we left in Nuremberg,” Gershanok said. “Unfortunately, hate lurks deep within our country. But we cannot let the cycle continue. We are not in Odessa anymore. We are not in Siberia. We are not in St. Petersburg. And we are not at Auschwitz.

“We are safe, inclusive and tolerant communities across this globe. We are Jerusalem. We are Pittsburgh. And we are Penn State. In 2018, we will not let fear divide us.”

The vigil was hosted by Chabad of Penn State and Penn State Hillel.

Rabbi Hershy Gourarie, of Chabad, said Monday afternoon that it’s important for the community to come together to grieve and resolve how to move forward.

“If you’re going to kill one Jew, there’ll be 10 more Jews to respond. If you’re going to attack one synagogue, there’ll be 10 more synagogues that are filled,” he said. “Jews are like olives: The more you crush us, the more olive oil comes out.”

Penn State resources

The following resources are available to members of the Penn State community affected by Tree of Life Synagogue mass shooting:

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