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A Tree Of Hope Blooms
“Action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.”
The words of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel were one of 331 messages of hope, love and peace written by Bentley community members following the October attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead. Handwritten on colorful paper leaves and assembled into a “Tree of Life” on a wall in the Bentley Student Center, the messages were then compiled in a 72-page album and sent to the synagogue to show solidarity with the victims of the anti-Semitic attack.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” read one message, handwritten in blue ink on a bright red leaf.
Another said simply, “#I Stand with PITT.”
Bentley’s Tree of Life effort was launched on the day after the Pittsburgh shooting when Director of Spiritual Life Rev. Robin Olson and Bentley Rabbi Jeff Foust were invited to speak at an interfaith vigil at Temple Beth Israel synagogue in Waltham.
“This was an opportunity to stand up and proclaim as a community that we value diversity and that we are going to make a difference for good in the world,” Olson says. “We took a group of students from different faiths, and it was such a powerful experience to be able to stand up and say that our Bentley campus is with the Jewish community and we are working to dismantle anti-Semitism – that we are your neighbors and we are connected.”
From there, the Bentley Tree of Life project grew. Olson drew inspiration from the theme of the recent inauguration of President Alison Davis-Blake; namely, a tree that symbolized the theme, “A Century of Growth, A Future of Leadership.” Inauguration Week included an activity in which Bentley community members wrote their hopes for the university on paper leaves, which were then assembled into a tree on a wall.
Once the idea to create a Tree of Life was born, interest grew quickly on campus as people looked for a way to help. More than 40 people joined in, including more than 20 students. Elizabeth Little ‘19, who works in the university’s Spiritual Life Center, was among them.
“College can sometimes feel like a bubble and students may not know how to talk about tragedy or what they can do to support the communities affected,” Little says. “The Bentley Tree of Life gave students, faculty and staff a way to talk about what occurred and to make an impact by sharing their words of love and support.”
Little first learned about the Pittsburgh tragedy on Twitter, and it left her feeling sick with anxiety. The tree project, she says, helped her get through. “Being able to write down my feelings and support for the congregation gave me an outlet for my feelings and helped process my thoughts about it.”
A copy of the album was also presented to the Temple Beth Israel synagogue in Waltham.
“At times of tragedy, people want to be together in a community, to process what happened and support each other,” says Bentley’s Mark Frydenberg, a senior lecturer in Computer Information Systems who is president of Temple Beth Israel. “The Tree of Life initiative allowed the Bentley community to respond to this tragedy with blessing, expressing hopes for unity, tolerance and peace.”
Little says compiling the hundreds of messages of love and solidary from students, faculty and staff helped calm her anxiety about the tragedy and the world in general.
“Reading all of the messages gave me hope that there is more light in this world than darkness,” she says. “I hope that when members of the Tree of Life Congregation flip through the album, they are able to find the encouragement and support that they need now and in the future.”