For many Americans, the Holocaust seems like ancient history. They lack the personal connection that many Jewish families have to the horrible tragedy. At the same time there are Americans living today who have experienced the Holocaust first-hand. They managed to hide out in Nazi Germany until they could escape, or they miraculously survived the concentration camps. These people made it to American soil where they felt solace, a place that proclaims freedom of religion as one of the most basic human rights.
Since the tragedy, we have erected memorials and museums around the world. Jewish people have maintained their pride in their religion and proclaimed that a genocide like this wouldn’t happen again.
On Oct. 27, 2018, the deadliest attack on the American Jewish community shocked the country. An anti-Semite stormed the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, and murdered 11 holy souls who had gathered there early to begin the Sabbath prayers.
There is no protocol for how one reacts to such events. Emotions ran high throughout the weekend, ranging from grief to severe anger to isolation and fear. It was hard for the country founded on the freedom of religion to come to terms with this violence.
The Drexel Hillel Center hosted a vigil in honor of those lost in this attack Oct. 29. By the start of the event, the building was overflowing with people who had come to grieve and find a way forward. During the vigil, Rabbi Isabell, the head of Hillel spoke with a Drexel student from the Pittsburgh community. They recounted the events that took place and also tried to empower those gathered. “I am part of a Pittsburgh synagogue, I will never be scared into hiding, and I will always be proud to be Jewish,” the Drexel student said.
There were speakers from other faiths too. They shared their sympathy with the Jewish community and pledged their support during this hard time.
“We will not stand by you when events like this occur, rather we will step in front and take the bullet, for we are brothers and sisters under one God,” one of them said.
It is this sentiment that can help us make it through tragedies like this. It is not the first mass shooting driven by hate, and sadly it is unlikely to be the last. The only route to seek is to build community. We will never forget the beautiful souls taken from us, and the best way to honor them is to continue their legacy. To gather at the synagogue early in the morning, yearning to be closer to God and each other. To sit, hand-in-hand with Christian, Muslim, Hindu and community members of other denominations and be proud of who we are. To find commonalities and strive to understand each other better. When we can forget the things that divide us, we can come together and find a way forward together.