On Monday, August 5, 2019, members of Yeshiva University joined elected officials and local residents for a candle-lit vigil at Bennett Park in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood to stand in solidarity with the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, dean of Yeshiva University’s Undergraduate Torah Studies programs, was on hand to offer words of comfort to a community shaken by the twin tragedies and still reeling from recent attacks against religious minorities in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“The only way to fight the darkness is to bring more light into this world,” said Rabbi Kalinsky. “The Jewish tradition teaches us that in order to break hate we have to add more love—loving each other, caring for each other and being for each other.”
The vigil brought together dozens of local residents and community leaders to the neighborhood park. Attendees held candles and homemade signs as they listened to the assembled speakers voicing their desire for an end to violence. Numerous English- and Spanish-language media outlets were on hand as well.
The vigil was coordinated by U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat and featured remarks from him as well as city and state officials, including Angela Fernandez, New York State Division of Human Rights Commissioner; Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President; State Senator Robert Jackson; Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa; and Council Members Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez and Ben Kallos.
Many in attendance at Bennett Park reflected on the outrage felt in the diverse upper Manhattan neighborhood. Those in attendance also remarked on other recent vigils following similar incidents. In March, Bennett Park hosted a vigil for the victims of the Christchurch Mosque shooting in New Zealand. Rabbi Yosef Blau, Senior Mashgiach Ruchani at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, addressed the crowd in mourning at that event. The previous fall, Yeshiva University hosted a vigil on Wilf campus for the victims of the synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Council Member Mark Levine, who attended both vigils, summed up the community’s equal sense of frustration and resolve in light of such frequent gatherings.
“We need you now more than ever,” said Council member Mark Levine. “I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve come together in this very spot as a community for this vigil. We came together after the massacre in Orlando, in Christchurch, we came once after a horrible massacre in Paris and we were here after the heartbreaking massacre in Pittsburgh.”
Levine added that the Washington Heights community represented “everyone who’s been targeted recently. Latinos have been targeted, Jews have been targeted, Muslims have been targeted, African Americans have been targeted, LGBT have been targeted. That is Washington Heights. That is upper Manhattan. That is who we are, and we’re going to come together and fight back as long as it takes to end this madness.”