Loyola community gathers for Tree of Life Vigil

Christian Willbern
President Tania Tetlow speaks at the Tree of Life Vigil on Loyola’s campus. Photo credit: Christian Willbern

 

Although Shabbat in the Jewish community is a time for love and community, Margaux Schexnider, political science sophomore, found herself isolated and filled with terror on Oct. 27.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was just told that eleven of my people were murdered,” Schexnider said.

While attending the Jewish National Fund Conference in Arizona, Schexnider received the news that 11 people had been massacred at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. As she attempted to grapple with this reality, hate was waiting outside the convention doors.

“Right after we were informed about the shooting, there was a huge group of Neo-Nazis and White nationalists that gathered right outside the conference we were at. It was so overwhelming, you know, kind of like your mind is going 1,000 miles a minute. You don’t know what your thoughts are and you cant even put into phrases what your feeling,” Schexnider said.

Despite these attempts to to divide the Jewish community, Krewe Du Jew, Loyola’s Jewish student organization, honored the victims and displayed unity at the Tree of Life Vigil on Nov. 2. Held in front of the St. Ignatius statue, multiple community leaders came together to show support and solidarity for the Jewish community.

In the wake of the massacre, Sophia Brown, political science sophomore and co-president of Krewe Du Jew, said she and other Jewish students students feel alone, scared, but unsurprised by the recent events.

“If you’re Jewish, you are very aware of the presence that anti-Semitism still has in the world. Anti-Semitism didn’t disappear with the end of World War II, and people forget that,” Brown. “What happened at Tree of Life synagogue could’ve happened anywhere. When I see police at my synagogue, my heart starts beating a mile-a-minute. It’s disheartening to not feel at ease in your own place of worship; the very place you are supposed to feel at home in.”

For some students, comfort wasn’t given when they needed it the most.

“I felt so broken alone when I heard about the shooting,” Olivia Dadoun, political science sophomore, said. “I had maybe two friends contact me to see if I was okay. I really wasn’t okay at all and I felt like I didn’t have any support. It wasn’t until President Tetlow sent out a truly beautiful and meaningful email that I felt like people at Loyola cared about what happened.”

Krewe Du Jew, as well as many other Jewish organizations around New Orleans and the country, are asking for two things: solidarity and support.

“The Jewish community needs solidarity right now. Not just solidarity, but also support. I hope you all will make additional efforts to inform yourselves on the injustices that Jews face on a regular basis,” Schexnider said during the vigil.

Dadoun said that in spite of the shooting, she hopes that history will not repeat itself.

“I hope this vigil shows people that there is a community that has been persecuted for thousands of years and that this community still faces it today. I hope that they look at us and see how much we need their love and support. I hope they stop laughing when they see anti-Semitic jokes or memes. I hope people learn to stand with us,” Dadoun said.

Brown called for students to take a stand for their fellow Jewish classmates.

“Speak up for yourself and speak up for others. You may think that these things are too small and won’t make a difference but they do. Jews of all people know the cost of silence. We know the cost of complacency. So speak up, even if it feels uncomfortable. That person you spoke up for could then be empowered to speak up for someone else and the chain continues. It all begins on an interpersonal level,” Brown said.

While it might be an uphill battle, Schexnider said the Jewish community will one day defeat hate.

“Hate may be strong, and it may be prominent; but love will always conquer. There will always be people who test our resiliency and hope for the worst for us, but we are always stronger. We as Jews are resilient and we never back down in the face of terror,” Schexnider said.

 

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