Eleven candles flickered through the dark Monday night during a vigil held on campus to honour the 11 people murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“I hope that anybody who was affected will be able to realize that they’re not alone in it,” says Gabriela Rosenblum, vice-president of UTSC Jewish Student Life (UTSC JSL), who hosted the vigil.
“Anti-Semitism is still very real. It’s not isolated, it’s very personal and it’s an issue.”
Rosenblum and Rachel Landau, president of UTSC JSL, led the vigil through songs, prayers, speeches, a candle-lighting ceremony and a moment of silence for the victims of the Oct. 27 shooting.
“It was upon us to spread awareness and talk about the implications of it and how anti-Semitism is unfortunately prevalent today, and make it a community building experience so other people can come and show support with us,” Landau says.
U of T alumna Joyce Fienberg was one of the victims of the massacre. Her name was read, and a candle was lit in her memory.
“The people who were murdered were actually people, they had lives, families, they were part of a community,” Rosenblum says. “It’s really important that these things don’t get normalized, that they’re not just numbers, they’re not just names. They’re people.”
Last March, Rosenblum and Landau were connected through Hillel at U of T, the tri-campus branch of the world’s largest Jewish campus organization. They have since worked to bring the UTSC JSL back to U of T Scarborough. Aaron Rotenberg, interim director of Hillel and U of T, and Rabbi Julia Appel, senior Jewish educator and campus rabbi, organized a vigil held at U of T St. George last Tuesday. They shared resources and helped Landau and Rosenblum organize the vigil in Scarborough.
“U of T Scarborough has a lot of students that weren’t able to attend the services downtown,” Landau says. “We wanted to make sure they feel included as well and that there’s something happening on their campus.”
“I really hope that the Jewish students on campus feel supported, and that there’s an understanding of what occurred,” she says. “Together, we can unite against hate.”
The vigil was also hosted with support from the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, the Department of Student Life and Campus Community Police. Representatives of the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre and the Muslim Students Association attended as well to show their support.
U of T Scarborough student Kayona Karunakumar was one of eleven attendees to light a candle in honour of the victims. As a Christian, she says, it is her honour and duty to show love and support to the Jewish community.
“Love does not rejoice in sin, wrongdoing, or evil, but rather in the truth and that's especially true at a time like this,” Karunakumar says. Truth, she adds, is acknowledging the evil of what happened in Pittsburgh and the ways the Jewish community was impacted.
After the ceremony, participants gathered in the Student Lounge to speak one-on-one. Campus Community Police Staff Sergeant Shahid Zafar discussed the services available to students if they feel unsafe on campus, and ways to address instances of anti-Semitism.
“The horrific instance that took place in Pittsburgh was an act of cowardice and an act of hatred,” Zafar says. “I want the Jewish students on our campus to know that the Campus Police are here to help them feel safer on campus.”
The Travel Safer program sends members of the Campus Community Police or Building Patrol to escort students, staff and faculty anywhere on campus any day at any time. The Community Safety Office also offers support in dealing with the trauma of harassment or assault, and can create individualized safety plans in conjunction with Campus Community Police.
To everyone that offered support, be it through letters, text messages, conversations with Jewish students, or by participating in the vigil, Landau says: “We see you. And we really, really appreciate your support.”