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Saturday February 4th

Hillel to hold vigil after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

UNC Hillel will hold a vigil to honor the victims of Saturday’s synagogue shooting that left 11 people dead at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the historically Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pa. 

The vigil will be in the Pit from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 1. In the case of inclement weather, the vigil will be moved to UNC Hillel’s Cameron Avenue location, UNC Hillel Executive Director Ari Gauss said.

UNC Hillel is a student organization that seeks to celebrate Jewish life and learning at UNC Chapel Hill, according to its website. UNC Hillel hosts social events and Friday Shabbat services.

On Saturday, the suspected shooter allegedly opened fire on the Tree of Life Synagogue congregation, killing 11 people.

The shooting is believed to be the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States, the Anti-Defamation League said in a press release.

“It is simply unconscionable for Jews to be targeted during worship on a Sabbath morning, and unthinkable that it would happen in the United States of America in this day and age,” the Anti-Defamation League said. “Unfortunately, this violence occurs at time (sic) when ADL has reported a historic increase in both anti-Semitic incidents and anti-Semitic online harassment.”

In its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the ADL found the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017.

The increase in incidents was the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since the ADL began tracking incidents in 1979, the report said.

According to the UNC Hillel website, there are approximately 1,300 Jewish students at UNC, which constitutes about four to five percent of the total student population.

Gauss said for a while there was a prevailing feeling in the country that anti-Semitism was unacceptable, but now it has become overt again.

“As long as there have been Jews, there have unfortunately been people who have hated Jews,” Gauss said. “I think that over the last few decades, the traditional forms of anti-Semitism have been less rampant, but in the last two or three years it’s increased.”

Gauss said the increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country are part of the growth of white nationalism and white supremacy.

“Those of us who are not white Christians are not part of their vision for America,” he said. “That is a group that is growing. As I said earlier, they are increasingly brazen and they are far less bashful.”

Gauss said the staff at UNC Hillel is more than happy to talk to students who are grieving after the incident or who have been the victim of an anti-Semitic act.

“It’s critical to us that we be able to provide students with a supportive community,” he said. “The Jewish community is a relatively small one here, four or five percent of the undergraduate community, but we’re a strong one.”  

Junior Tal Harris said he had family in the Pittsburgh area who had attended the Tree of Life Synagogue.

“My uncle actually grew up going to that synagogue, he’s from Pittsburgh, so it hit relatively close to home for me,” Harris said. “I had to message him and some other family members to see if they were doing alright.”

Sophomore Rachel Cannon said UNC Hillel has done a good job of offering resources for students to cope with the shooting.

“At Hillel, all this week some of our staff members are offering their doors open to come and talk and provide whatever services they can,” she said. 

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt offered condolences on behalf of the University to the families and friends of the victims of the shooting in an email on Monday.

Folt encouraged students to call Counseling and Psychological Services and faculty and staff to call the University’s Employee Assistance Program.

“We know many of you are deeply affected by this news,” Folt said. “Now is a time to care for our community with kindness and support, promoting peace and acceptance. There are campus resources available to help.”


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