Twelve empty chairs faced the crowd, 11 of which had signs with the names and ages of the shooting victims. Nick Rosenthal, a Jewish student and member of the Alpha Epsilon Phi fraternity, placed a stone on each chair. A stone instead of flowers represents enduring memories for the deceased in the Jewish faith.
Rianna Saslow, a UNC student, read descriptions of each victim as some audience members cried. She highlighted the personalities of the victims, encouraging audience members to personally relate to those who knew the deceased.
“We all know the Irving Younger’s, who always come early, just so he can greet each and every person with a warm smile that says, ‘You are welcome here.’ We all know the Rose Mallinger’s who somehow consistently seem to have more energy than us, despite being literally 79 years older than us,” she said. “This tragedy may strip us of our sense of safety. But do not let it strip us of our sense of unity, our sense of belonging.”
The twelfth chair was left nameless in memorial for everyone who has died due to a hate crime. In her portion of the program, Chancellor Carol Folt offered condolences to those affected by the shooting and drew parallels between this hate crime and the 2015 killing of Muslim UNC students Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and her sister Razan. Deah’s brother Farris later spoke to the crowd with a message of resiliency and unity in the face of discrimination.
Yehudis Bluming from Chabad of Durham/Chapel Hill called upon power and strength following a tragedy.
“Pittsburgh is known as the city of steel,” Bluming said. “People who attack the Jews fail to understand the very fabric we are made up of: an unbreakable and indestructible material. It’s been tried on every corner of this planet, and it failed miserably. We are incredibly strong and always will be. We are steel. We are iron.”
North Carolina Hillel expressed grief for the victims in a statement.
“Our tradition teaches that whoever destroys a single life is considered to have destroyed the whole world. On Shabbat, 11 souls were taken from us. 11 worlds were shattered, never again to be made whole. We are committed to keeping their memories alive in our hearts. May their memories be blessings for us all,” the statement said.
North Carolina Hillel serves 15 college campuses and has a building in Chapel Hill near The Carolina Inn. UNC Hillel is a community of undergraduate and graduate students who explore Judaism through education, social events and holiday celebrations. About five percent of UNC’s total student population is Jewish.
Joshua Romero, a sophomore biochemistry major, helped organize the gathering. Being raised Jewish, he has visited Israel and concentration camps in Poland, and he is an advocate for ending gun violence.
“The majority of students on this campus already seem to respect all students, especially students who come from different backgrounds,” he said. “And it’s just important to acknowledge that everyone comes from a different place and everyone’s different and instead of finding hate in our differences, it should be love and understanding and appreciation for diversity.”