By Sara Rose Verschleisser
On March 17th, a delegation of students from Yeshiva University attended a vigil in Washington Heights for the victims of the Christchurch Massacre. The Christchurch Mosque shootings were an act of religious terrorism in New Zealand targeting Muslims that left 50 dead and another 50 injured on Friday, March 15th.
The vigil was hosted by U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, and speakers included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, state senator Robert Jackson, Assembly Members Carmen De La Rosa and Al Taylor, Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) Senior Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Yosef Blau, and other local politicians and community representatives. More than 50 people from the Washington Heights community attended to show solidarity with the victims of the massacre.
Molly Meisels (SCW ’20) organized the delegation from YU. She was moved by the demonstrations of unity she was seeing on Facebook between Jewish and Muslim communities. “It inspired me. With our current political climate, we could use interfaith unity more than ever,” she said. “The final straw was when I read what the first victim told the shooter, ‘Hello Brother.’ Such peace and courage in the face of death both broke my heart and lit a fire beneath me.”
Originally, Molly started working with the YU Office of Student Life and student councils to plan a vigil on campus. When Jon Greenfield, Director of YU Government Relations, told her about the Congressman’s vigil, she instead focused her attention on the event. “I decided that it was necessary for a YU delegation to attend this important event, entitled, ‘Uptown Stands with New Zealand.’”
20 YU students along with Rabbi Yosef Blau attended the vigil. The speakers discussed interfaith solidarity, gun violence, and promoting not just tolerance, but unity. Students were moved by the diversity of the crowd, and the show of support with which everyone stood. “The vigil was an important display of solidarity with other religions that are persecuted because of their faiths,” Elka Wiesenberg, an attendee, commented. “It was such a kiddush Hashem to see so many Jews stand against this atrocity.”
President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman demonstrated interfaith unity in a public statement: “‘When I looked for good, evil came to me, and when I waited for light, then came darkness’ [Job 30.26.]. It was with grief-stricken incomprehension that we learned of the cold-blooded murder of 50 people at the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Islamic Centre in New Zealand. As over a hundred of our Muslim cousins gathered in their mosques for prayer, an act of faith that represents humanity at its best, a cowardly terrorist opened fire on them, an act of barbarism exposing humanity at its worst. The Yeshiva University community across the world stands in solidarity with all people of conscience against Islamophobia, and bigotry and hatred of any kind. May the families of the fallen find comfort and strength in the days to come.”
The attendance of a Yeshiva University delegation was a statement in support of peace and solidarity. “It was an honor to be part of the unity showcased today. We might have our differences, but we are one people,” Meisels stated. “We need to provide a voice for those facing hatred, as we know what it’s like to face bigotry.”