By Alex Kaplan ’21
On November 8th, the Jewish Affinity Group hosted a town hall in the wake of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eleven people were killed, making it the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States. While the event was hosted by the Jewish Affinity Group, it was open to the entire Pingry community, regardless of faith or culture. The event intended to create a space that was free for respectful debate so anyone could voice their thoughts without fear of retaliation or judgement. According to Ethan Malzberg (VI), co-facilitator of the Jewish Affinity Group, “any shooting inherently provokes a political response from some people, and we wanted to allow people to be political without turning what’s meant to be an emotional place into an argumentative place.” The town hall was a success, with high turnout and a great impact on those who attended.
Present at the town hall was Dr. Diana Artis, Chair of the Department of Diversity and Inclusion, Mrs. Eva Ostrowsky, counselor and Peer Leadership Program Advisor, and Ms. Shelley Hartz, Director of Community and Civic Engagement, as well as a number of faculty, students, and staff. Many people came both to share and to listen. Ms. Hartz felt that the town hall was a powerful experience, saying that “seeing the students [who] came to the meeting was most impactful since these were students I don’t normally see in Affinity Group meetings.”
The viewpoints that were shared varied as well. Some shared their opinions on the recent events, whereas other shared ideas they found had affected them. Mrs. Ostrowsky, for example, shared a poem written to the baby whose naming was supposed to take place during the tragedy at the synagogue. It was an emotional moment for all who attended. Malzberg noted another affective moment, saying, “I was the first person to share, so seeing people around me stand up after me was really affirming and inspiring to everyone.” Ms. Hartz and Malzberg both noted that the community turnout was better than expected.
The high attendance and heartfelt response to the event opens the door to more events of a similar nature in the future. Ms. Hartz echoed this sentiment, noting that she hopes, “as a community we can continue to find venues where students can support each other during difficult times.”