When senior Chava Solberg heard the news of the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday, she thought of her friends and family in the area and wondered if they had gone to synagogue that week.
“I immediately started texting them, waiting for confirmation, and I texted my mom and reminded her to be safe,” she said.
Solberg was one of around 200 attendees of the Vigil for the Tree of Life Synagogue held on Monday at 5:30 p.m. During the vigil, names of the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting were said aloud. Attendees held candles and shielded them from the wind with their hands as they listened to speakers and responded to prayers and hymns sung by participants. Christians, Jews, Knox students and Galesburg residents were among the many groups represented in the vigil. Solberg attends Temple Sholom, and says she was born Jewish.
Solberg has been part of the Jewish community in Galesburg since her arrival freshman year. She teaches at weekly Sunday school, occasionally attends Friday services and is president of the Knox College Hillel Club. Among the several emotions she experienced in response to the news, faith in her community was one of them. However, she can’t help but fear future acts of anti-semitism.
“I think that it would be naive to not have any fear, however, I believe in trusting my environment and the people around me,” Solberg said.
Galesburg resident Jennie Bunde also reacted with fear when hearing about the shooting, as the text she received bringing the news also brought the desire to assess the safety and security of Temple Sholom, where she has been involved for 13 years. Bunde mentioned that while Temple Sholom has not been the target of hate crimes, it is not immune to anti-Semitic messages.
“One congregant was telling me, maybe 40 or 50 years ago, that on the day of his bar mitzvah, somebody painted a swastika on our synagogue here in town,” she said.
Bunde feels welcomed and loved by the Galesburg community. She said that, while she is sure there are anti-Semitic individuals in Galesburg, they aren’t very loud. She said the number of individuals who showed up to the vigil last Monday is a testament to the support and care the people of Galesburg show for for the Jewish community.
Bunde, who was one of the main organizers of the vigil, wanted it to be a place of support and unity rather than a political statement.
“I think other vigils have become very politicized,” she said. “For me I didn’t want the vigil to be very political because I wanted it to be uniting and hopefully not dividing.”
At the vigil, Knox Director of Admissions and President of the Galesburg chapter of the NAACP DeVone Eureles wanted to send a message that the love individuals have for one another is stronger than acts of hate, such as the Pittsburgh shooting.
“It was really a message of support, but mostly it’s a time of almost solidarity, so we can stand together as all people,” Eureles said. “We may think differently or be of a different race and a different place or act of worship. But we’re all people who need each other.”
Eureles feels that much of the violence and hate towards specific groups comes from the division we face as a country. Although he acknowledges the potential need for stricter gun laws, he doesn’t believe this to be the source of the problem.
“It’s more than just that,” he said. “It’s the mentality behind the gun, what’s going on in the household, what’s going on with the people. Unfortunately when you have hate that’s being spewed from the top office in the country, that condones everybody else and their hatred.”
She has recently been talking to them about anti-Semitism — what it means, its history, but wanted to approach the topic in a way that is relevant to them.
“I asked them about what’s in their environment,” she said. “So mostly we just talked about anti-Jewish jokes, because I think that is what’s most relevant to them right now. How to handle that and how to handle if that makes you uncomfortable.”
For Solberg, the hardest aspect of coping with the aftermath of the attack has been talking about it with the students she teaches during Sunday school. She said that it is heartbreaking to explain anti-Semitism to young people.
“That was really hard to talk about with, like, 13-year-olds,” she said. “It was hard to have that realization slowly wash over their faces while you’re just standing there.”