Since Saturday, Oct. 27, the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill has sadly become synonymous with tragedy. For those unfamiliar with Pittsburgh, this has been a horrific introduction to a neighborhood that truly does fit all the characteristics with which it has been described: unassuming, diverse, tree-lined, safe.
For students at Carnegie Mellon University, it is an essential piece of what makes our university. A 20-minute walk or a three-minute bus ride away, it is where students go for dinner out or to simply enjoy some time off campus, and it is where many professors live and raise their families. For Jewish students at CMU, it’s home to a Kosher Dunkin Donuts, six synagogues of all denominations and a support network that enables a Jewish life while in college. For someone who forgot about Judaism after turning 13, I credit Squirrel Hill with helping me explore what Judaism could be in its best form.
The day of the Tree of Life shooting still feels like a nightmare. Searching Twitter after receiving a CMU crime alert to find a video of armed officers running down Murray Avenue. Nonchalantly mentioning the “active shooter” to my roommate before he left for brunch — before we understood the gravity. Sending the dreaded message to my family, “I am safe, but…” Those are the fragments that piece together the day of the terrible act for me.
And there were others. Sitting on the first floor of the AEPi house calling everyone, Jewish and not, to check on the safety of friends. Meeting that afternoon with leaders from Chabad, Hillel, AEPi and the CMU provost and vice president to ensure safety and plan for a response. Cooking dinner that night with Jewish students, friends of friends, grandparents in town, to just give us something to do with each other. The response felt automatic: be together and be together often.
The following Monday was the campus vigil; 1,500 members of the CMU community came out. That night, 150 Jewish and non-Jewish students painted The Fence, Carnegie Mellon’s most recognized form of campus advertisement, which offered a location of respite in the center of campus for two weeks following the shooting. Students in the College of Fine Arts coordinated a community open-mic the following Friday that raised more than $2,000. And a parent of a Jewish student created “Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh,” which is sending hundreds of knitted Stars of David to the community. I notice how many numbers I’m using to describe these things, but even now it’s the best way to represent a sample of the lasting support on campus.
The mood at Carnegie Mellon now is more challenging to describe. At other campuses, the shooting primarily affects Jewish students. At CMU, there was a visceral fear because this is our community — several students attend High Holiday services at Tree of Life, and the Jewish organizations in Pittsburgh are all interrelated. It has felt terrifyingly close and personal over the last month. At the same time, the beautiful neighborhoods around the synagogue are home to many non-Jewish students, and they were just as shaken, though perhaps in a different way.
For me, being a Jewish student since Oct. 27 has been hard. When the worst anti-Semitic act in the United States happens a mile away — where I went for Yom Kippur, where friends and their families remain members, where people from my community had been praying — how can I easily return to homework or process the lecture that seems so unimportant now? Carnegie Mellon’s administration did as good a job as possible at reacting to the shooting and addressing the comfort of students on campus, but as Jewish students, we are often the ones left to explain the effects of this level of anti-Semitism.
I’m president of the student board of Hillel on campus, so I’ve watched closely as the Jewish community on campus has reacted since the shooting. There has been fear about attending the synagogues nearby. I have spoken with friends about the challenge of talking with other students who struggle to understand how personal the shooting was. Some students have expressed a mixture of depression and sadness, while others have set those emotions aside and returned to their work as a way of getting through the pain.
Though students are now focused on their studies, the link to Squirrel Hill remains for Carnegie Mellon’s 400 Jewish students and other students and faculty. I look forward to the next Shabbat lunch with a local family, and I’m excited to turn towards Jewish programming, as are many of my closest friends. I think my desire to dive into the Jewish community on campus right now is because it would be the wrong response to continue like nothing has changed. The best thing for us is to indulge in everything that makes our community at CMU and our connection to Squirrel Hill so amazing.
Jadon Grove is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University.
This piece is part of “The View From Campus” column written by students on campus. If you would like to contribute to it, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. We are grateful to The Paul E. Singer Foundation for supporting the Write On For Israel Program.