OU Hillel expresses sorrow, comfort from community at Tree of Life vigil

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

People fill the auditorium during a vigil for Tree of Life Synagogue shooting victims, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, at OU Hillel.

The mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27 was the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the history of the United States. Eleven people were murdered and six injured.

America mourned its dead, including the University of Oklahoma community, which responded with a vigil at OU Hillel that was attended by hundreds of community leaders and key members of the university’s leadership.

Alan Levenson, the director of OU’s Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies, praised the response of the university community. And when World Literature Today editor in chief Daniel Simon approached him about creating a reading list to “facilitate reflection, promote tolerance and foster understanding,” Levenson was eager to participate. It seemed like the logical reaction to the tragedy from an institution of higher education: a suggestion of how to learn and move forward.

“Daniel Simon is a very modest guy, but the idea was entirely his,” Levenson said. “I thought it was a great idea from the beginning. For some people, their natural response [to events like the shooting] is to get very political, and I think that’s great. I’m not the first to do that, but I and other people on this list have spent most of our lives reading and writing books, so I can tell you good stuff to read about this problem.”

In addition to being politically active and intellectually engaged, Levenson suggested that individuals mirror the civility they expect when it comes to conversations with people on important topics like race, religion and politics.

“I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on, not just with anti-semitism, but with all sorts of overheated rhetoric, claims that are not based in any real evidence,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re paying attention. At the vigil, there were a couple hundred people there. The president of the university [Jim Gallogly], the provost [Kyle Harper], several departmental chairs, people from community outreach — people notice that. This thing happened in Pittsburgh, but here’s a response in Norman; this is a really big deal.”

The 11-book reading list, which honors the 11 victims of the shooting, was released this morning by WLT and accompanies this story. It includes suggestions from historians, philosophers, engineers and other members of the OU community. Levenson recommended James Carroll’s 2001 book “Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews.” He said it’s important for those born after the evangelical embrace of Israel after the 1960s and 70s to understand the centuries of conflict that came before.

“Jewish-Christian tension is probably the most significant part of anti-semitism,” he said. “Carroll engages with that conflict on a personal level and says ‘This has really been a problem in my church.’ You can’t put it down, and he’s a very smart guy who gets all of the scholarship right.

“I like the way he shows there were points in the past where turns could have been made that would have been better, and even when decisions could have been made that would have made things worse. It’s a morally admirable book.”

Caleb Slinkard was hired as the editor of the Norman Transcript in August of 2015. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University-Commerce and previously was in charge of several newspapers in northeast Texas.