Around 70 members of the La Verne community gathered on the grassy area in front of the University’s Chapel to show their solidarity with the Jewish and black communities in light of the tragedies of last week.
Eleven Jewish community members were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning, and two black community members were killed in a Kentucky grocery store Oct. 24 after the gunman was unable to gain access to the predominantly black First Baptist Church.
“Sacred spaces are too often the target for acts of terror and hate. Let’s be sure to reclaim Tree of Life and First Baptist Church as sacred,” University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner said. “These are spaces where love is stronger than hate, wisdom is deeper than fear, where justice knows no violence, where compassion is the norm even toward enemies.”
Wagoner opened the ceremony with statements of grief, and a poem by Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet. She also discussed how important it is to come together as a community in order to show support for one another after tragedies such as these.
“I ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered, where does it hurt? It answered, everywhere,” Wagoner read from the poem, “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon.”
Wagoner introduced Devorah Lieberman, president of the University, shortly thereafter. The audience could hear the shakiness of emotion in her voice as she uttered statements of support.
“I know that it’s difficult to move forward under the heavy weight of this sadness because these incidents remind us yet again of the broader anger and divisiveness that we continue to wrestle with in our society. Sometimes, so heavy and overwhelming, that it feels like we have no control,” Lieberman said.
“We must carry that weight and we must move forward. We cannot allow hate to prevail.”
The event was co-hosted by the Jewish club, Hillel, and the Black Student Union. During the ceremony, Aryn Plax, vice president of Hillel, offered words of contemplation to the audience as she stood at the podium.
“It is more important now to recognize that solidarity doesn’t just exist now, but has existed historically under a system of white supremacy, and will exist as we respond to this upsurge in white supremacist activity,” Plax said.
“In responding to these tragedies, I’d like people not to analyze them in isolation, but to remember the past.”
While speaking, Plax asked the audience to shout one-word descriptions as to how they felt when they first heard of the shootings.
The audience responded with: sickened, lament, hopeless, horrified and tired.
In the middle of the seats set up for guests, there was a table holding 13 candles on top of a purple tablecloth.
Following a prayer led by Cantor Paul Buch from Temple Beth Israel in Pomona, the candles were lit as Nicole Temple, president of Hillel, read off the names of the those who were lost in the two horrific events.
“Shield us from our despair, God, ease our pain. Let our fears give way to hope,” Buch said. “We must never learn to be indifferent to the plight of any who suffer, we must learn to care, to open our hearts, to open our hands, because innocent blood is calling out to us.”
After the prayer and lighting of the candles, Buch led the audience in a song meant to provide hope for the community. Closing statements were made, and the audience was given the chance to write in a journal belonging to the Chapel.
“There is a core sickness that is part of the American character that has a deep fear of the other,” Buch said.
“The arch of human history has been marching forward to a greater degree of inclusiveness and integration and a sense that… we realize we are all intertwined in a way where we can never consider ourselves separate again.”
Buch said he remains hopeful in spite of the darkness brought on by the horrific actions of terrorists such as these.
Temple said it is far too easy to become apprehensive after such incidents, but that it is more important to look toward the future for hope.
“I’d like to think that in the future, someone is thinking back to the events that happened today and is saying ‘I wish they knew that everything was going to be okay,’” Temple said.
Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.