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Matthew Lavoie, Staff

Tragedy in Pittsburgh brings community together

Many members of the local community came together throughout the week to show support for members of the Jewish community in light of the shooting that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Oct. 27, 2018.

On Oct. 29 there was a candlelight vigil held on the steps of the Raymond H. Fogler Library at the University of Maine in remembrance of the 11 victims who lost their lives.

Professor Amy Fried spoke of her family’s experience of anti-Semitism in Europe and how historically America has been welcoming to the Jewish community. Because of this history of embracing those of Jewish faith, she said, the recent shooting serves as a real threat to this American reputation of supporting religious freedom.

Professor and Associate Dean of the Honors College Melissa Ladenheim also attended the candlelight vigil. She shared a prayer that was in circulation among rabbis in response to this recent tragedy and ended by reciting the last two lines of the Mourner’s Kaddish translated into English: “May the One who creates harmony on high, bring peace to us and to all Israel. To which we say: Amen.”
Niamh Toomey, a second-year education student, was also in attendance.

“It was really powerful to be a part of. I’m not a member of the Jewish community, but there’s a branch of my family who is, and I have a number of friends who are. I think with this kind of senseless tragedy we as a society really need to check our priorities and think of vigils like these as a call to action as well as a celebration of life,” Toomey said.

Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Robert Dana also spoke on the steps of Fogler. He said that this tragic event is a reminder to take care of one another, and to come together as a community to fight this kind of darkness with light.
Sophie VanDerburgh is a sociology student in her third year. She came out to the vigil in support, stating that it was a very emotional experience as she loves many people who happen to be Jewish as her family has Jewish roots.

“There seems to be so much hate in our world today, but it’s refreshing to see our community taking a stance of hope and support and reaffirming our commitment to the safety and well-being of each other,” VanDerburgh said.
Those who were not able to make the event on Monday still had the opportunity to come together in support with other members of their community. Congregation Beth El held a memorial program on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

More than 400 members of the community attended the services in the synagogue that seats about 100 people.

People came from as far as Castine, Ellsworth and Houlton. They represented a diverse group, including political figures, community leaders, first responders and neighbors. Representatives from all three of the synagogues in the area as well as nearly all religious groups had members in attendance.

“We were incredibly embraced by the greater Bangor community,” Rabbi Darah Lerner said.

Leading up to the event, Rabbi Lerner said she did not anticipate the huge outpour of support. All throughout the week people from the community had been expressing their love and support in the forms of flowers, food, notes, calls and Facebook posts.

Shellie Batuski, who is a professor of Hebrew and the advisor for UMaine Hillel, attended the service at Congregation Beth El. She remarked that it was an incredible experience to be a part of.

“It was a beautiful show of support in the community,” Batuski said. “It was very heartening in the Jewish community to know that we’re not alone in going through this.”

Moving forward, Batuski said people of the Jewish faith should not be afraid to express themselves or their religion.

“This is an act of terrorism and how we are coping is to not to cower or go hiding under a rock,” Batuski said.

She emphasized that these types of tragedies are a reminder to all of us that we need to fight hatred and injustice wherever it is seen.

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