Kunin: The Vigil

Nov 5, 2018

In only a few moments, the Tree of Life synagogue had become the synagogue of death by the hand of one gun wielding anti-semite. This was the most horrendous attack against American Jews in our history. And non-Jewish communities around the country, including Burlington, grieved with their Jewish neighbors and friends.

I admit, as an American Jew, I had briefly felt a whisper of fear. If it could happen there, could it happen here - could the seed of hate flourish anywhere.

But as I entered the city’s Contois auditorium, I was not alone. The overflowing crowd seemed to sink the balcony. Those who could not get in, waited in the street. Others stood in the auditorium for two hours. And when I heard the chant from the Koran first in Arabic and then in English, followed by the rabbis who spoke in Hebrew and English, I felt safe.

The list of speakers, who read their favorite prayers and readings, was long and moving. We read the names of the dead, one by one in unison. The Hillel students lit memorial candles. We sang in Hebrew and English and together recited the 23d psalm.

I no longer was afraid that my Jewish identity might place me in danger. A Protestant minister had spoken of the idea “to be known and to be safe.” My relatives who died in the Holocaust had been known as Jews and that is why they had not been safe. The 200 people who sang together at the Burlington vigil were united with their Jewish friends and neighbors, and we were all one.