Berkeley community gathers in candlelight vigil for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims

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More than 100 people gathered Sunday night outside Sproul Hall to hold a vigil honoring the victims of the recent shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The prayer service and candlelight vigil were organized by Jewish community organizations on campus.

On Saturday morning, a man armed with multiple firearms entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people and injuring several others.

At the vigil, supporters gathered around the seal outside of Sproul Hall, on top of which candles were arranged in the shape of the Star of David. When the Campanile struck 8 p.m., mourners holding candles shared a moment of silence. Prompted by Rabbi Gil Leeds, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at Berkeley, individual candles were lit in memory of the shooting’s victims.

“It’s the ultimate sorrow that lives were taken senselessly because of hatred,” said Gaby Ostrove, a student board member of Berkeley Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus. “It’s really heartening to see the Jewish community so strong and together. I just wish it were under happier circumstances.”

Leeds led mourners in prayers and songs, alternating between Hebrew and English. One attendee who spoke at the vigil was a relative of Rose Mallinger, one of the 11 people who was killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The relative — who requested to not be named, in fear of retaliation — spoke out against anti-Semitic acts.

“This is an issue that takes many forms, whether it be epithets, transgressions, violence, just a simply passing-by comment,” the relative said. “While these 11 lives may be a tragedy, the ultimate tragedy today would be to let their 11 lives go unnoticed and ultimately uncared for.”

On campus, recent incidents of hate-motivated acts have prompted responses by campus officials. Chancellor Carol Christ issued a statement in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

“Today we join together with millions of people around our country and the world to condemn the horrific and senseless violence in a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday,” Christ said in the campuswide statement, which was issued Sunday.

Throughout the vigil, calls for community support and unity were emphasized in addressing the problem of hate-motivated crimes. Ostrove mentioned that events at Berkeley Hillel and the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center are open to all, especially “students looking for space to process this event.”

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín also held a vigil Saturday evening to mourn the loss of the shooting’s victims and released a statement condemning the act.

“We condemn this act of bigotry and hatred,” Arreguín said in the statement. “Let’s stand together as one community, united, at this difficult time and let everyone know that hate has no place in our community and in our country.”

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.