“I could not reconcile how people could harbor such hate for people who pray in a different way, or if they look a different way,” said UCF medical student Joseph Ziebelman as he addressed students, faculty and staff at a vigil for the victims of October 27’s Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh.
Students organized the Nov. 2 vigil to bring the medical school community together to acknowledge and grieve the eleven people killed in the shooting. During the event, students of the Jewish faith shared their thoughts about what it is to be Jewish in these divisive times.
“It’s about being part of a people. A people with a vibrant culture full of songs, language, food, and more. This culture has been passed down for thousands of years,” said Ziebelman. That sentiment was echoed by second-year medical student Debbie Shimshoni, who said that Judaism’s deep roots and history can never be destroyed and should never be forgotten.
“We realize that this tragedy does not just affect them while we sit in Florida removed and comfortable,” Shimshoni said. The Jewish community of Pittsburgh is not a them identity. No matter the color of your skin, your faith, your beliefs. They are an ‘us.’ We are one community. And we stand together.”
She spoke of how her sister, who works at a Holocaust museum in Pittsburgh, was scheduled to bring in a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp to speak at the museum the day after the shooting. Shimshoni’s sister asked if the speaker still felt comfortable giving the talk. Her simple answer: “They need to hear it now more than ever.”
First-year medical student Matt Abrams urged colleagues and friends to commit themselves to tolerance and acceptance, and to embrace others who might be suffering because of their differences.
Yet in the midst of unimaginable hate, Pittsburgh united in compassion, said second-year medical student Jake Friedman, who talked about the Jewish nurse and doctors who were first to attend to the shooter’s injuries.
The overwhelming message of the vigil was resilience, understanding and hope as students sang Oseh Sahlom a Jewish song of peace, and urged everyone to stand together against hate.
“Hate is easy, loving is hard” said Friedman, “Staying silent (is) being indifferent. I urge you to avoid this mistake. Do not be complacent in this life — say something, do something — when you experience hate or discrimination.”
The vigil ended with a moment of silence and solidarity.
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