A massive crowd gathered Monday at the University of Pittsburgh to honor the lives of 11 victims lost in the Squirrel Hill synagogue mass shooting.
“We will not allow hate to be part of the discussion on how problems get solved,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told the cheering crowd that covered the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning. “Our mission is to make sure that the evil we saw last Saturday is never seen again.”
Students handed out Pitt shirts that prominently displayed the “Magen David”- or, Star of David, a well-recognized symbol of modern Jewish identity. Rabbi Daniel Schiff, of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said the symbol is more of a “shield” than a star, and he called upon the vigil’s attendees to be a “shield” for those targeted by hatred.
Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the victims—whose names were read during the ceremony by Schiff—were “our neighbors, family, friends and colleagues.” The shooting occurred Oct. 27 at Tree of Life Congregation.
“This is not supposed to happen in America’s friendliest city in Fred Rogers’ neighborhood,” Gallagher said. “These acts of pure hatred have become far too common, but they must never become acceptable. It can be tempting to give in to grief and feel powerless. But we are not powerless. Together, we are resilient. Our commitment to stand together must last long after the wounds have healed because hate will still be there. Let us show the world what we mean when we say, ‘Pittsburgh strong.’”
The Songbirds, a Pitt a capella group, performed a rendition of Beyonce’s “I Was Here,” while Dr. Ann Cudd—Pitt’s senior vice chancellor and provost—praised the courage of the first responders, from police officers and firefighters to EMS and the Red Cross.
Brian Burke, the president of the Pitt Hillel Jewish Student Union, said he knew Cecil Rosenthal, one of the shooting victims. The massacre has shaken his feeling safety in the United States.
“This tragedy was deeply personal to me,” he said. “I grew up down the street from the Tree of Life. The past week has been the worst of my life. I’m not OK, but I won’t give up. The hatred that took 11 lives won’t win.”
Elizabeth Rangel works at the Learning, Research and Development Center (LRDC), where victim Joyce Fienberg was an employee for 25 years.
“We will speak out against violence, regardless of religion, race, gender or place of origin,” she said. “We are today and will always been members of the University of Pittsburgh’s community.”
Student Zahava Rubin, the president of Chabad at Pitt, said that the school’s students should aspire to make the school “welcoming and warm” to all, while political science professor Ronald Linden emphasized “the three ups” to combat hatred.
“We need to show up,” he said. “We need to vote up—and politicians will react when they are punished at the polls. And we will speak up. When you are at the Thanksgiving table and your cranky Uncle Charlie says something unfeeling about African Americans, Jews, Muslims, transgender people or gay people, you call them out on it.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that he had been inspired by the number of people from around the world who have reached out to show solidarity.
“We are a city of bridges—both physically and metaphorically,” he said. “Everyone is welcome in Pittsburgh, regardless of where they worship, the pigmentation of their skin or who they love. Hate has no place in our community.”
Nathan Duke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.