Op-Ed: Tree of Life: Cultivating seeds of unity through art and action

To members of the Tufts community,

“A little bit of light chases away a lot of darkness.”

No one should have to fear as they pray or to celebrate that their lives or the lives of their loved ones could be taken in a vicious assault on their identities. The attack by an antisemitic man two weeks ago has been devastatingly painful to many in our Hillel community, the greater Tufts Jewish community and beyond. Eleven people at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh were killed at Shabbat morning services. We stand united in this simple yet increasingly profound belief. But as we mourn and grieve, we are faced yet again with the vibrant reminder that antisemitism is alive and well in the United States and throughout the world. The Jewish people are not exempt from the horrors of religious persecution and hatred that exist throughout society. We stand together against the moral wrongs of antisemitism, white supremacy, gun violence and any other kind of violence or prejudice rooted in baseless hatred.

As leaders of the Jewish community on campus, we have pioneered the Tree of Life project. The Tree of Life is a tapestry we created to serve as a place for students to publicly process these violent acts of hatred and their meaning for our campus and country. We invite each member of the Tufts community to write a reflection or a memorial on the green fabric leaves and pin them to the tree. The Tree of Life will represent the deeply layered and complicated ways in which members of our community, heavy with grief, can support each other to reflect and envision a more just world.

The biggest obstacle in creating a more just world is the baseless hatred that fuels antisemitic and white supremacist acts. Antisemitism is a complex form of hatred that has taken many forms throughout its long history. Incidents of antisemitism continue to be perpetrated by people from a variety of backgrounds and political beliefs. However, in America, most of the recent antisemitic attacks have their roots in white supremacy. Rhetoric in America’s current political climate, often fueled by our president, Donald Trump, has emboldened white nationalists, allowing for the most violent attack on Jews in the history of our country. Many white Jews benefit regularly from white privilege even as white supremacists perpetrate antisemitic acts. Numerous marginalized groups have found themselves victims of hate crimes fueled by white supremacy. Those hateful acts take different forms and affect the marginalized communities differently. In the same week as the Tree of Life massacre, two black people were murdered while shopping in Jeffersontown, Ky. Even here, on campus, while white supremacists put up signs during the night which read, “It’s okay to be white,” we proudly hang our Tree of Life in the light of day. The Tree of Life stands as a symbol of our commitment to fight white supremacy, antisemitism and all forms of hate which plague society.

Further, we would be remiss to not discuss the role gun violence played in the Pittsburgh massacre and other hate crimes. Guns have been used in countless violent white supremacist acts, the Squirrel Hill incident included, but this is a pervasive problem that affects all Americans. Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, Charleston: These are five of the many different communities across the country which have been victimized by mass shootings and hate. The lack of politicians speaking against and enacting policy to combat gun violence is a political and moral failure. Here at Tufts, the Tree of Life exists to commemorate the lives tragically lost in Pittsburgh (and the many other communities hurt by gun violence) and to reflect together as Jumbos.

Immediately after the events of Oct. 27 unfolded, members of the Tufts Jewish community came together to process the events and mourn the loss of members of our Jewish family. As we processed our grief and anger, we felt the love and support of the communities around us. The University Chaplaincy and the faith communities have supported this project and demonstrated incredible acts of kindness in this difficult time. Thank you to everyone who has reached out in any way; your support has not gone unnoticed. In the face of baseless hatred, we want to come together as a Tufts community to demonstrate that we will condemn white supremacy and hatred on our campus, in our country or in our world. The Tree of Life, and the leaves we will all add, serves as a reminder to us all that we can replace hatred and violence with shalom v’or; pax et lux; peace and light.


Members of the Tufts Hillel Student Board