MSU Hillel, Student Association hold vigil for Pittsburgh shooting victims

Members of several faith traditions came together Wednesday evening to support the MSUJewish community and memorialize the 11 victims of the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)

Staff Writer

People of many faiths and walks of life came together Wednesday evening on the Mississippi State University campus to memorialize victims of a recent mass shooting and support the community most affected.

The MSU Hillel Jewish student organization and MSU Student Association held a vigil in memory of the 11 Jewish faithful killed Saturday in a shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Several Hillel members took part, as well as members of other faiths and the larger Golden Triangle Jewish community. The attendees almost filled the Chapel of Memories. Speakers included MSU President Mark Keenum, Hillel President Tyler Daniel, Hillel Past President Jacob Craig, Hillel Past President Joseph Metz, MSU Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt and MSU Student Association President Myah Emerson.

University Baptist Church Pastor Bert Montgomery and MSU Muslim Student Association advisor Rani Sullivan offered prayers. Rabbi Seth Oppenheimer of B’nai Israel Congregation in Columbus read the names of the victims and offered a prayer.

Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen, who is Jewish, said it was powerful to see the support from the Christian and Muslim communities, as well as others in the MSU Jewish community and beyond.

“It’s unfortunate why we came together, but I think it was really well done,” Cohen said. “The support of Dr. Keenum, of Dr. Hyatt, of this administration is felt by all. I truly believe that Mississippi State is a family. This is a example of what a family does when there’s tragedy in the world.”

Like Cohen, Daniel was thankful for the support he had received from the MSU community. Daniel said he wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else when such a tragedy struck.

“Our university prides itself on its diversity, on its ability to foster a wonderful atmosphere as a result of that diversity,” said Daniel, a senior international political science major from Clinton. “Specifically as a Jewish person, I think that their unwavering support in all of our endeavors enables us to not only exist as an organization on campus, but to facilitate events like this.”

He said the majority of those who made the vigil possible were neither Jewish nor members of Hillel.

He said his first reaction after hearing of the shooting was hoping no one he knew was among the victims.

“Directly after that, I thought,‘What if it was me? What if it happened in my synagogue? If it can happen in Pittsburgh, it can happen in Starkville. It can happen in Jackson,” Daniel said. “There was a fear of the reality.”

However, Daniel said as the fear hit him, many from the MSU community called and messaged him to make sure he was alright.

“That definitely helped well those feelings of angst and fear, to have their support,” Daniel said.

Both Daniel and Oppenheimer encouraged community members to offer words of support to their Jewish friends in the wake of the tragedy. Oppenheimer said many in the area had reached out to him, with some placing flowers on the synagogue steps in Columbus.

“It’s a sign that most people are good, welcoming people, and the wicked are not in the majority, but there’s enough to cause danger and fear,” Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer said there was a sense among Jewish people in America that events like the shooting don’t happen here. As such, he said the shooting had reopened wounds for many.

“There is perhaps a level of fear that was not present,” Oppenheimer said.

Keenum read the 23rd Psalm from The Bible, and said he was proud of the MSU Jewish community for its courage in the wake of the shooting. He also emphasized the university’s commitment to diversity.

“All of us are children of God, and therefore, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Keenum said. “I also believe that we live in a glorious world full of good and goodness. I see people doing good things on this campus. I see people doing good things on this campus and in this community every single day.”

The vigil ended with the singing of Oseh Shalom, a Jewish prayer for peace.