Though the Tree of Life Synagogue is nearly 638 miles away from Athens, reverberations of the “Vigil in Memory of the Tree of Life Victims” at the University of Georgia Tate Student Plaza were heard on Oct. 30.
The vigil was held to honor the lives of the 11 people killed on Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Tate Plaza was filled with students and people from the Athens community, Jewish and non-Jewish, in support of the victims and the Jewish community. The emcee of the event was vice president of Dawgs for Israel Josh Cohen, a fifth-year parks and recreation, tourism and management major from Marietta.
“As a minority on campus, it was powerful to see this backing,” Cohen said in response to the turnout of about 350 people.
The event shed light on the hate that caused the tragedy in Pittsburgh. Cohen advised the audience what to do when they witness hate.
“When you see hate, say something,” Cohen said.
The vigil consisted of six other speakers from different backgrounds, such as Roey Shoshan, the director of Hillel at UGA, which is a “Jewish hub for more than 2,000 Jewish students and the broader UGA community,” according to its website.
Director of the UGA Honors Program and professor of religion, David Williams, spoke on behalf of UGA’s President Jere W. Morehead. Morehead was out of town at prior engagements but will be meeting with a group of Jewish students upon his return to campus, Williams said.
The primary courses Williams teaches include a survey of Judaism and a course on the Holocaust.
Lee Setty, a senior marketing and international business major from Alpharetta, also spoke at the event. She found out about the Pittsburgh shooting while attending the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville on Oct. 27. The planning process for the event began Oct. 28.
“A group chat was formed of who wanted to be in on the planning process. We talked at Tate, got the plaza and made sure we did it in the best way with the most people there,” Setty said.
At the event, the names of those killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue were said while a candle was lit for each one.
“Be aware of the situation, remember the victims names, read their stories, read what happened and see what you can do in yourself to change the way you think or view groups, not just Jews but all minority groups,” Setty said.
The Athens Jewish community used speeches and Hebrew prayers as an outlet to stand in solidarity with Pittsburgh. Setty said the event was “to commemorate these people's lives, all the people involved, the Pittsburgh community and make sure something like this doesn't happen again.”
The co-directors of the Rohr Chabad House, Rabbi Michoel Refson and Chana Refson, spoke at the vigil. The Rohr Chabad House is described in their mission statement as a “Jewish center for the entire UGA/Athens community.”
“Let us not forget, an attack on any Jew is an attack on every Jew. Let us never forget, an attack on any house of worship is an attack on every house of worship. Let us never forget, an attack on any American is an attack on every American,” Refson said.
At the event, attendees could fill out a piece of paper labeled #Mitzvah4Pittsburgh. A Mitzvah is defined as “a good deed done from religious duty.” The piece of paper said. “Some spread darkness, We spread Light. Choose a good deed. Choose a Mitzvah. Add light to the world.”
After filling it out, attendees submitted the piece of paper into a box. The #Mitzvah4Pittsburgh papers will be delivered to Pittsburgh, Chana Refson said.
One of the non-Jewish attendees of the vigil was Salina Patel, a senior health promotions and behavior and communications major from McDonough. She said she has many Jewish friends affected by the Pittsburgh tragedy.
“I think it is important for everyone who is non-Jewish to stand with the Jewish community right now,” Patel said.
Patel said hosting the vigil was important in bringing people together.
“Now more than ever our nation feels divided, and our communities feel divided, especially on a college campus," Patel said. "I hope this event brings us all together and makes us all remember we are all just people.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Roey Shoshan as Roy Shoshan. The Red & Black regrets this error and it has since been fixed.