Vigil honors those killed or affected in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting

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Heads bowed in prayer and hands clasped around candles at the CSUF Becker Amphitheater during a vigil commemorating those killed and affected by the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In the Jewish tradition, these candles represent the flame that “exists in every human and is created in the image of God,” said Daniel Levine, director of Jewish Student Life for Orange County Hillel and leader of Tuesday’s vigil.

On Oct. 27, a gunman shot and killed 11 people inside the Tree of Life synagogue. The assailant, Robert Bowers, was apprehended by the Pittsburgh police and brought to a hospital for treatment. Bowers made anti-Semitic remarks on social media prior to the shooting, according to CNN.

The synagogue shooting is the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history, according to a press release from the Anti-Defamation League, a nonpartisan Jewish organization focused on civil rights and human relations.

A day after the vigil took place at Cal State Fullerton, the Beth Jacob Congregation in Irvine was vandalized with anti-Semitic slurs. On Saturday, Makom Shalom synagogue in Anaheim evacuated around 200 people after receiving multiple bomb threats from an unidentified caller.

Clubs, community members and students at CSUF showed their support for and solidarity with the Jewish community at the event.

AJ Mindel, a CSUF alumnus and founding member of Alpha Epsilon Pi (a Jewish fraternity on campus), said he came to the event to support his fellow brothers.

“It’s a major tragedy and I think personally it’s a very scary situation because it has to do with a very vulnerable place,” Mindel said.“We’re supposed to feel safe when we’re in synagogue and I think that’s been taken away from us.”

Levine led two Jewish prayers based around the idea of hope, which are customary for the Jewish community to recite at the beginning of vigils and funerals. One of the prayers has been used by the Jewish community in extended times of hardship, such as during the Holocaust and past wars in Israel.

“It’s a focus on hope. It’s not a time for self-pity. The message is overwhelmingly, hope,” Levine said.

Feeling numb at first when she heard about the synagogue shooting, Rivka Pruss, a Jewish student leader at CSUF said she remembered breaking down and crying when she got home after Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of the week.

Speaking to the crowd of people at the event, she referred to the Jewish community as a resilient bunch and expressed that, as Jewish people, the community should honor the memory of the 11 victims, who she named out of respect for their lives.

“I ask that you do a mitzvah, a good deed in their honor, and for their loved ones,” Pruss said.

Zachary Coleman, Alpha Epsilon Pi president, said he thought the event was a positive experience because it gave the Jewish community a space to share their thoughts and feelings surrounding the shooting and brought non-Jewish and Jewish parts of the CSUF community together.

“Raising awareness for anti-Semitism is extremely crucial as incidents like this are happening. I would assume that half of our campus is probably unaware of the incident that happened and that this is what will bring that notice to them,” Coleman said.

Coleman said he has never seen an event like the vigil during his time on campus, and described it as being what the community needs to get to a better place emotionally.

Julius Choi and Dominic Torres contributed to this article.

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