Portland vigil honors victims of Pittsburgh synagogue massacre

Community members from Portland State and the Portland area gathered on Nov. 1 in the Park Blocks to commemorate those killed in the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh last week.

The vigil was hosted by the PSU chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an interfaith, political organization which seeks a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.

Those in attendance took part in lighting candles while holding silent contemplation for victims of the attack. “We always hear about fascism on the rise, but it is present. We are here and we see effects of it daily,” PSU student Zia Laboff said.

As one of the leaders for Jewish Voice for Peace PSU, Laboff helped set up and coordinate the vigil, inviting those of all faiths to join with the Jewish community in mourning the death of the 11 victims of the attack. “The fact that it was done under three days…we are so grateful and appreciative of that and all of the different people [who] came out,” Laboff said.

Portland resident Alea Brager, who identifies as both Jewish and lesbian, was one of the attendees. During the vigil, Brager shared a poem by Mary Oliver, “Sunrise.”

“This poem is about how we’ve been, throughout history, experiencing oppression we all have in common, and that we need to lead our lives as we dive into the fire of the oppression with whatever joy we can,” Brager said. “That poem harkens to me this deep feeling that all of us can come through the start time by understanding our commonality.”

As members of the Tree of Life Congregation gathered for morning Shabbat service on Oct. 27, the attacker, armed with an assault rifle and several handguns, entered yelling anti-Semitic slurs before opening fire. Though this is one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks to ever occur in the U.S. according to the Anti-Defamation League via CNN, incidents of anti-Semitism have risen astronomically since 2016—in 2017 alone, the Anti-Defamation League found a 57 percent increase.

As a response to the attack, two Muslim organizations—CelebrateMercy and MPower Change—raised $200,000 to help families of the victims, according to The New York Times. Their initial target was $25,000, but in six hours they reached their goal. Nearly a week later, members of Tree of Life gathered for their first Shabbat service since the attack.

While hateful rhetoric and attacks on minority groups increase as reported by The Washington Post, Laboff hopes to see people with different backgrounds and beliefs come together. “I think moving forward, it’s about time to acknowledge—taking time to honor the people who have lost their lives and just find ways to support each other, because there is no bandaid fix for this unfortunately,” Laboff said. “I hope to see more empathy from people…if we can empathize for the other oppressed communities going through similar tragedies, it will build solidarity.”

She ended the night with a moment of silence along with giving thanks for all who came to honor the victims and support the community.