Tree of Life Vigils Assert Unity in the Face of Hate

Tree of Life Vigils Assert Unity in the Face of Hate

(Miho Watabe)

On Tuesday, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a nationwide movement of progressive Jews, led a vigil in front of the White House in the wake of the October 27 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead. The action, along with similar vigils coordinated across the country, mourned the shooting’s victims while also protesting President Donald Trump’s silence on the rising wave of white supremacy.

In an open letter, Bend the Arc leaders in Pittsburgh declared that Trump was not welcome in the city until he publicly condemned white nationalism and ceased attacks on vulnerable communities. Trump ignored their statement, visiting Tuesday amid mass protest.

“Solidarity is important,” Cari Shane, a D.C. resident, told me as we stood in front of the White House. “We have more power and more strength as people who do not believe in hate.” Ahead of us, families attempted to capture the president’s residence in selfies, seemingly unaware of the intimate gathering taking shape only a few feet away.

Totaling about 50 people, what the service lacked in numbers it made up for in diversity. Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, the Washington director of Bend the Arc, was the first to address the crowd, speaking on the importance of togetherness before reading out the names of the victims of the Tree of Life shooting.

Among the organizations that came out to show support were United We Dream, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), the Arab American Institute, and Jews United for Justice. In a show of multicultural and interfaith unity, spokespersons from each organization spoke of uniting communities and building solidarity to fight the rise of hate.

Omar Baddar, who attended the vigil with the Arab American Institute, told The American Prospect that coalition-building across communities was important now, more than ever. “This is a common fight for everybody who cares about the diversity of this country,” said Baddar. “It’s crucial to the soul of the country.”

Kelsey Herbert decided to come out after an organization she belongs to, Faith in Public Life, promoted the vigil. “It’s critical as a Christian that I stand with Jewish people and immigrant students,” Herbert told the Prospect.

“I don’t think it’s so political or radical to say, ‘Don’t promote white nationalism,’” Rabbi Kimelman-Block told The American Prospect, after pointing out how Republicans continued to air ads that played up anti-Semitism over the weekend.

This vigil was only the latest, as similar multicultural and interfaith actions take place across the country. Shane told the Prospect that she attended a vigil in the D.C. neighborhood of Cleveland Park that was so packed they had to hold a second vigil outside. “It was all about hate,” said Shane, “and how hate needs to stop.”

(Miho Watabe)