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Monday, August 10, 2020

Tree of Life vigil brings light, love to whatcom county courthouse

By Ray Garcia 

Gathered outside of the Whatcom County Courthouse rotunda, members of the Whatcom County community came together on Saturday, Nov. 10, in mourning for the lives lost in both the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue and Louisville Kroger shootings.

“Tree of Life Vigil: Safety Through Solidarity” was a public, intersectional vigil attended by members of the Jewish, Black, Latinx, Muslim and other communities, according to the event’s press release.

People from all backgrounds, including members of the Jewish, Black, Latinx, Sikh and other communities, came together in an intersectional vigil on Saturday, Nov. 10, to honor the fallen from the Tree of Life Synagogue and Louisville Kroger shootings. // Photo by Ray Garcia
People from all backgrounds, including members of the Jewish, Black, Latinx, Sikh and other communities, came together in an intersectional vigil on Saturday, Nov. 10, to honor the fallen from the Tree of Life Synagogue and Louisville Kroger shootings. // Photo by Ray Garcia

The representatives included: Shemaiah Kountouros, a member of the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities; Maru Mora-Villalpando, a member of the Latinx community and an undocumented immigrant; Jazzmyn Hannah, co-Leader of Black Lives Matter Bellingham; Aaron Thomas, a member of the Lummi Nation; Teizeen Mohamedali, a member of the Muslim community; Satpal Sidhul, Whatcom County Councilmember and a member of the Sikh community; and the Rev. Charis Weathers, a Lutheran pastor and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

With leaders from various backgrounds, the vigil provided support to those who’ve been oppressed and targeted by hate speech and acts of violence.

“Fear and hatred isolate us. When we’re faced with hate crimes over and over again, well, our hearts are breaking but they’re breaking alone,” Kountouros said. “This is a crucial moment for us to come as a community to see, hear and stand together.”

The vigil began with Jewish leaders from Congregation Beth Israel offering a Havdalah, a prayer marking the end of the Sabbath. When the Havdalah candle was lit, the other representatives went up one by one to have their own candles set aflame. They then dispersed into the crowd, offering to light the wicks of those in attendance.

Elkah Katz, one of the leaders and a member of the Jewish community, recognized those who died in the shootings. Rooted in hatred, the deaths were the result of a mistaken belief that some lives are more precious than others, she said.

“The lives of all are equally precious. Everyone of us here has an inner spark that has led us to come together to open our hearts in solidarity,” Katz said. “I acknowledge and honor the spark within each and every one of you.”

Following a moment of silence for the fallen, the crowd moved inside the courthouse where the vigil continued. Once everyone was seated, each representative offered a small speech highlighting the importance of an intersectional community – where people of all ethnicities, religions and identities can come together in unity.

Some offered a prayer, others shared words of support, but almost all called for a collective effort against hatred and violence.

“The only way we’re not afraid is when the community is there for us. Fear goes away when somebody is there for you, when somebody offers you a hand, when somebody says, ‘I’ll be here for you,’” Mora-Villalpando said. “That’s exactly what I’m here to offer to every member of any community that has been attacked.”

At the end of the vigil, members of the Jewish community closed the event by singing a song of unity. Their collective voices carried around the courthouse rotunda, coming together in harmony. The crowd cheered for all of the representatives who helped put the event together.  

Hannah, a junior at Western, said she wanted to set an example of what ‘security through solidarity’ meant to her by showing her support for other communities. She said there’s a lot of overlap between circles, which often leads to multiple conversations on the same regurgitated concepts. By taking more of an active role in those spaces, Hannah said efforts can be better coordinated to represent the perspectives each community has to offer.

Gathered in the Courthouse rotunda, leaders from Congregation Beth Israel closed the vigil with a song of unity, leaving those in audience with a lasting sense of solidarity. // Photo by Ray Garcia
Leaders from Congregation Beth Israel closed the vigil with a song of unity, leaving those in audience with a lasting sense of solidarity. // Photo by Ray Garcia

“We must not detract from the Jewish community and what they’re experiencing, but also to not detract from historical violence, as well – to acknowledge the fresh wounds and the past wounds,” Hannah said. “I can’t do it by myself, so if we all do a little bit then we will be better off than we were.”

*The title of the article was updated on Nov. 13. It was previously titled, “Safety through solidarity: communities come together in mourning for vigil.”

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