Oct. 29 vigil at the Binghamton Jewish Community CenterBy Professor Sandra Wright

Tears flowed as psalms were read, candles lit, and community members of every faith, race, ethnicity and age gathered together at the Binghamton Jewish Community Center on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, in a vigil for the victims of the Tree of Life Congregation shooting.

Many members of SUNY Broome Community College were in attendance, mourning the loss of life in Pittsburgh as well as other similar terrorist attacks on churches, schools, mosques and shopping areas. The loss of life this weekend in the Kentucky Kroger shooting brought home the similarity of hate across all these senseless acts of violence.

A Rabbi reminded us that today we are all Jews. An Imam looked around the auditorium which was filled well past capacity and declared, “This is America.” A leader from the NAACP spoke of righteous love and his deep empathy. Every one of the speakers and singers and prayers asked of us a simple task, to do good deeds and to be kind.

This community. This day. Reach out to each other with acts of kindness. Honor those who have died for the privilege of being Jewish, or for the color of their skin, or the country of their origin, or the person that they love. Honor them with kindness. Overcome hatred with love. Be the part of this community and this country that rejects hatred and bigotry.

Please read the following reflections from other SUNY Broome participants.

SUNY Broome Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Francis Battisti: “I felt that last evening’s vigil was very inspiring. The themes of love and good works were meaningful and healing. Not losing our voice, during these difficult times, is so important.”

Professor Scott Corley: “Our society has problematically and unfortunately assumed a posture where we are not only desensitized to mass tragedies, but we also fail to mourn, collectively the loss of life, even under the most egregious and despicable circumstances.”

Professor Virginia Shirley: “Hate wants us to say ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Hate wants us to build walls. The vigil was proof that strength and love resides in ‘WE.’ We are at our best when we work together.”

Instructor Ellie Rivera: “I took my family and it proved to be such a very special experience. Before going, we spoke to our children of safety and awareness everywhere we go. I was moved to tears, as it reminded me of the days that followed 9/11 and the world stopped to catch their breath from all the fighting of the world’s ugly. I am accustomed to greeting women I see of the Muslim faith with their familial greeting of ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum,’ meaning ‘Peace be Unto You.’ They responded in kind. When I see a woman wearing a hijab, I see a most powerful and brave woman. They defy society’s expectation of conforming but instead stand firm in their beliefs to the point where they wear it for the world to see their confirmation of such faith. In honor of them and their beliefs, I say it. My daughter asked me what that was. At seven years old, she took in such powerful lessons and she practiced the greeting all the way home. The lesson they most definitely heard was that kindness blinds hate.”

Professor Kathleen McKenna: “I suspect there were 1,000 people there — people gathered together at the Jewish Community Center by the Children of Abraham, a local interfaith group that has been meeting, doing service together, and supporting one another since 2008. There were older folks, there were small children, college students, and everyone in between. Among others, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis spoke, as did a Presbyterian minister, the head of NAACP, student leaders from BU, and an imam from the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier.

“The imam told his Jewish neighbors and friends that we would be there to accompany them to the grocery store if they are afraid to go shopping, or that we would stand outside their houses of worship if they are afraid to gather and pray, poignantly offering to the Jewish community what people of good faith had offered to the Muslim community after the backlash against Muslims in 2001.

“I kept asking myself how many more times this group would need to gather to mourn a loss.

“The Presbyterian minister reminded us that there were good people in Hitler’s Germany too — they were just too busy to get involved — raising kids, putting bread on the table. The president of the Jewish Federation asked us to fill the local synagogues this Friday night and Saturday as a sign of support.

“There is work to do — emotionally, socially, and politically. For that brief hour last night, though, the gentle songs in Hebrew and English reminded me how comforting it can be when people of good faith come together in loving kindness.”