Junior Benjamin Nadler remembers the Yom Kippur services he attended every fall with his two sisters in Pittsburgh.
He remembers them kneeling during song, their voices echoing throughout the congregation while colored light spilled through the stained glass windows of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Nadler also recalls the shock he felt on Oct. 27 after an assailant identified by law enforcement officials as Robert Bowers entered the same synagogue with an AR-15 assault rifle and opened fire on congregants, killing at least 11 and wounding six others.
“It’s so close to home. It is home,” Nadler said. “I hate to think that such a place of beauty has become desecrated. It makes my head grow light, and the world begins to spin just thinking about it.”
Nadler did not personally know any of the victims of the attack.
Nadler and about seven other students trickled into the Cutler Majestic Theatre from 4:30-6 p.m. on Oct. 29 for a period of personal contemplation and reflection about the mass shooting. Attendees sat in silence, only speaking to greet others. President M. Lee Pelton emailed the student body a few hours before the vigil on Oct. 29 to inform them of the event.
Eleven chairs rested empty in the middle of the stage lit by a solitary spotlight to represent the 11 people killed in the synagogue.
Freshman Leah Jablo said she considers herself an active member of the Jewish community in her hometown of Chicago and wished her classes discussed the shooting more.
“I needed some time to step back from daily life and think about the situation. You don’t really get a chance to do that at Emerson,” she said. “When you’re far away, you can feel really detached from a lot of anti-Semitism, but it definitely exists.”
Vice President of the Office of the Arts David Dower, who oversaw the event, said the college held similar vigils after mass shootings at Pulse Nightclub, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“These spaces can hold emotion and reflection. Some things are beyond words, and in a moment like this many people are feeling beyond words,” Dower said. “So to just hold a silent space like this is really important.”
“I have written to this community too many times before in response to murderous acts, motivated by fear and hate,” he wrote. “It is our responsibility to think critically, and to add our reasoned voices and diverse perspectives to the most pressing problems of the day. This is our time to contribute to the world in a way we’ve never done before.”
Dower said he thinks it will take time for members of the community at the college to recover from this traumatic event.
“Numbness is the true danger,” he said. “The fact that the students, faculty, and staff have to take a minute to find their voice, to find their words, is actually a sign of hope. It’s not a routine(,) and we need to keep reminding ourselves of that.”