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Local vigil supports Pittsburgh

by Shelby Toth - News Editor
Tue, Nov 6th 2018 10:25 pm

The United States and the rest of the world were left in shock on Friday, Oct. 27, after a deadly shooting took place at Pittsburgh synagogue, Tree of Life. According to the New York Times, 11 congregants were killed, with several others being injured, including police officers on scene and the shooter himself.

The New York Times reported the shooter was shouting anti-Semitic slurs as he shot wildly into the crowd of worshippers. This is one of the deadliest crimes against the Jewish communities to take place in the United States.

Across the country, hundreds of vigils have been held in memory of the lives lost in the shooting. One such vigil was held in the village of Brockport.

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, in Sagawa Park, located right outside the Brockport Diner, community members gathered in support of those affected by the synagogue shooting. The vigil garnered almost 100 attendees, varying from The College at Brockport students and faculty, to locals and members of other nearby communities.

Before the speakers started, those at the event made conversation with one another, whether they were acquaintances, friends or strangers who had never met. The atmosphere was solemn, but hopeful. 11 candles were lit before the vigil began and people were invited to add candles throughout the time alotted to speakers and afterwards throughout the night.

To begin the event, Reverend Lori Staubitz, who had a big hand in organizing the vigil, spoke. She described the vigil as a “grassroots effort” among the entire community and Compassionate Brockport, a local group dedicated to making Brockport more welcoming. Staubitz led the group in song, then opened the mic for the next speaker.

Many spoke during the vigil, sharing stories, quotes and even songs. One man, a member of the Jewish community, shared a famous quote from a Lutheran pastor.

“First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Another speaker talked about how her mother, who had survived the Holocaust, saved gold coins for each of her children out of fear of another Holocaust taking place. Yet another speaker shared a poem that had been written for the vigil by a 93-year-old local Jewish community member and Holocaust survivor.

“Inked number on flesh, carved into the soul of humanity,” the speaker read out. “Immutable witness to evil lurking, under the moral face of man. A warning to the upright citizen who forgets and does not look beyond his picket fence…”

Bill Privett, a member of Compassionate Brockport, spoke about the group’s mission and founding. The group, according to both Privett and its website, came together after The College at Brockport’s President Heidi Macpherson spoke at the Brockport Interfaith Ministries Breakfast about the growing hate finding its way into the Brockport community and how they could help create a more welcoming environment for those coming into the village and college. From that meeting, Compassionate Brockport came together and, according to the website, holds monthly meetings in the Seymour Library.

“We at Compassionate Brockport are trying to develop a caring community where each person is treated with dignity and respect and which develops the means to transform conflict peacefully,” Privett said. “I appreciate this symbol of exactly that faith and hope that you demonstrate here tonight.”

Many familiar Brockport faces were among the crowd present at the vigil, including the college’s President, Heidi Macpherson and Chief Diversity Officer, Cephas Archie. Both spoke during the vigil on behalf of the college.

“What I do want to acknowledge is that we are with you,” Archie said. “When you grieve, we grieve with you. When you are hurt, we hurt with you. When you cry, we cry with you. And so understanding that in moments like this, it’s the things that bring us together as people. Recognizing and honoring that hate, in any form, is something that we collectively must drive out. Whether it’s in our schools, whether it’s in our communities, whether it’s in our cities, our nation, we must make no room for hate.”

One message many of the speakers touched on was the amount of diversity present at the vigil, from those with different religious beliefs to different skin colors and other diverse aspects of identity. Staubitz explained their goal was for there to be a variety of people in attendance.

“It was our intention to reach out among diverse communities, which I hope, with our speakers here tonight, we have quite a good showing of the diversity that does exist [in Brockport],” Staubitz said. “A lot of people are surprised when they find out we have a Jewish community, or we have people that practice Islam, or that we have atheists in our community. People are surprised by that, and that means we aren’t talking to our neighbor.”

Adrianna Thrasher-Scutt, a Pagan student at Brockport, was one symbol of different group members present at the vigil. She read about the vigil through a Social Work department email, and decided to attend in order to show solidarity with the Jewish community, even if the shooting took place in Pittsburgh.

“…I don’t know if it’ll make any difference, but to me it does,” Trasher-Scutt said. “And I think, to show my son and show this community that we all stand together, it means something to me. So, I hope it means something to everyone else here.”

Towards the end of the vigil, Staubitz took to the microphone again to present a call to action. She urged the crowd not to let the event be “just one more vigil,” and to try and make a difference in the world.

“Whether you are writing letters to legislators, whether you are talking to coworkers, whether you are standing up during conversations where you may hear an ethnic slur or somebody degrade someone of another faith, or even demonize their neighbor just for who they are, let us join together and let the light from this circle tonight become the center of a much larger circle of light as we carry ourselves forth from this evening together as a beloved community.”