Etz Chaim means “tree of life” in Hebrew. It is the name of a place of worship, love and spirituality in Pittsburgh, Pa, the synagogue in which 11 Jews took their last breath. On that same day, two black people joined the 11 while grocery shopping in Louisville, Ky. Both crimes are acts of hatred and violence committed by emboldened white supremacists.
These are not just people; they are Maurice Stallard, Vickie Jones, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, married couple Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. They are parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends.
Last weekend, hate for Jews and blacks wounded the College community and communities across the nation. We bled, cried and felt pain, yet found ways to heal. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Williams College Jewish Association (WCJA) hosted a gathering to bring the community together in this time of fear and anger to celebrate the lives of those who died over the weekend. Immediately after, Williams Catholic held a candlelight vigil and prayer as they proclaimed their solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters. On Wednesday, Oct. 31, an Interfaith memorial spearheaded by WCJA for the black and Jewish lives lost brought all members of the community together in solidarity. On Thursday, Nov. 1, the Jewish Federation of Berkshire County held an interfaith vigil at the Congregation Knesset Israel in Pittsfield, Mass. Then on Friday, Nov. 2, WCJA dedicated Shabbat to the 11 who died for observing this very same tradition, and to those who died in Louisville, Ky.
Through our solidarity, the healing process begins, but I challenge us to embrace our scars moving forward. This past week I engaged with many student and spiritual leaders on our campus, and feel that their emotions and reflections shine the brightest light on the issues we face going forward. Rabbi Seth Wax, the Jewish Chaplain, expressed this sentiment for the Jewish community. “As many others have noted, as Jews, we have learned well the history of anti-Jewish violence that has affected our people and community throughout the generations: pogroms, expulsions and, in the last century, the Holocaust,” he said. “But it’s one thing to learn the history and another to live through it. I think that’s what is most shocking: that this is real and affecting us right now… To be present with each other’s suffering. It’s the only way any of us will begin to heal, and fortunately, it’s something that each of us already has the skills and ability to do.” Rabbi Seth touched upon what is felt by those whom I have spoken with, that the evils of the Holocaust are still presently expressed through white supremacy. Evan Chester ’21 built upon this point, saying, “I hope this powerful moment is not lost in time and that we will be able to continue to gather not only in mourning but in joy as well.” As Evan suggested, it is imperative to hold onto the memory of those lost and honor them going forward.
In this time of mourning, many students have sent out a plea for action, for prevention and for change. I agreed with Omar Kawam ’20 when he said, “While we should mourn and wrench at the thought of these murders, we should also direct our thoughts to how we can make change with our limited capacities. It can be overwhelming to see where change may happen when we observe the endless, interrelated injustices around us, but students, especially from an institution like our own, should be purposeful in their time on campus and afterward.” Isaiah Blake ’21 also inspired and challenged the community by asking, “How can we resist the nearly inevitable numbing as our people reexperience the trauma of lynching, state violence and white terror? Our resistance rests in the strength of our emotional intelligence. Our resistance rests in the strength of our alliance and solidarity,” he said. “Williams is not separated from these atrocities. The high altitude of this terrain does not block us from the ability to recognize violence and fight against it. We either get active or stay complicit.” Through Isaiah’s words, I inspire us to take action as a community against the evils of white supremacy.
As I spoke with students, chaplains and leaders within the community, it became clear to me that the wounds of last weekend’s tragedies cut deep. As much as we work to heal them, the scars remain for many. Yet these scars serve as a reminder to never forget, to actively engage with the social issues plaguing our community and world at large. Often at the College, it’s easy to think these acts of hate won’t occur on campus, but I’ve seen it, and perhaps you have too. We, therefore, need to acknowledge that the power provided by unity and solidarity is the strongest governing action against hate. A dear friend shared a quote by John Steinbeck which leaves me, and hopefully you as well, with a sense of duty going forward: “It isn’t that the evil thing wins – it never does – but that it doesn’t die.”
Julia Mariani ’21 is from Locust Valley, N.Y. She intends to major in psychology and Spanish.