By Jamie Barishman
I am a proud member of Sigma Sigma Sigma at the Beta Theta Chapter at the University of Pittsburgh. Before October, I could tell you a lot about my memorable Jewish experiences, for example, my first time seeing the Kotel (Western Wall in Jerusalem), or my first time stepping foot in Jerusalem and the sense of purpose and belonging I felt there. I could also have told you about my passion for this organization, our chapter, and our sisterhood. But after the events at the end of October, a bit has changed.
As you probably already know, there was a horrible act of anti-Semitism that took place October 27 extremely close to our campus at the Tree of Life congregation. Eleven innocent lives were taken during Shabbat while they were attending synagogue. Right when I found out what happened, I rushed to the Chabad House (an organization that provides support to Jewish students on campus) to make sure my friends, fellow Jews, and Rabbi/Rebbetzin and their families were okay. When I showed up, it was about time for the usual Shabbat Lunch, and I have never seen so many people gathered there during Shabbat day. Even our university’s Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students showed up with grief counselors to care for anyone who needed it. It was an amazing sense of unity and support. This day felt amazing, as we all cared for each other while grieving for the lives lost. It was a horrible violent act, that heightened the sense of Jewish pride in many of my classmates, but this still wasn’t my most memorable Jewish experience.
My most memorable Jewish experience were the days that followed. My amazing Chabad house did everything they could to be of support to each and every single Jewish student on campus. They hosted a havadallah and vigil the same night. They opened their doors during all hours for any student who needed them or a place to be. They offered meals, bagel brunches, relaxing girls-only events, tabled with several mitzvahs that any Jewish student could take on (such as getting a mezuzah, giving tzedakah, etc.) and so much more.
I don’t believe I have ever received so many texts, calls, or messages following this horrible tragedy. Even in the few days after, my sisters and classmates all reached out to not only me, but also to each other via group chats, group messages, Facebook, texts and much more. Everyone just wanted to see if everyone was still doing okay. Not an hour went by that I didn’t receive a text or call from a sister to check on me.
We had the Chabad Rabbi come to speak with our chapter the day after the shooting at the Tree of Life. He said something that really struck a chord with everyone. These deaths cannot be reversed, no matter how badly we wish that they could, so now we just have to look forward and be there for each other, support each other and continue to bring light into each other’s lives in the wakes of tragedy. This really resonated with what our sisterhood is about: being there to love, care for and support each other.
The Rabbi gave us a bunch of Shabbat candles. We brought some into our buildings to light together before Shabbat, and I taught many of my sisters the meaning of these Shabbat candles. We call lighting Shabbat candles a “mitzvah” in Hebrew (“good deed” in English) before Shabbat takes place. According to Jewish law, women are the only ones who are supposed to light the Shabbat candles. The point of Shabbat candles is to bring light into the home. It symbolizes peace, positivity and girl power, yet another thing our sisterhood stands for.
This horrible, horrible event only made us all stronger and prouder. This amazing week ended in a gigantic Friday night Shabbat Dinner. When I looked around and saw familiar and unfamiliar faces during that day, I had never been so proud to be a Jew. All of my sisters who attended the dinner were there to support me and the 10% of our chapter that is Jewish, and that is exactly what sisterhood is about. In the days that have followed, I have become even prouder to be a Jewish sister of Sigma Sigma Sigma.