Elon’s Jewish students gather for Havdalah ceremony to show strength of community

Hillel and Chabad student leaders join together after shooting incident

The sound of melodious singing in Hebrew spilled out of the McBride Gathering Space into the Academic quad, at just about 7:40 p.m. on Oct. 12 for a Havdalah ceremony, the weekly marking of the end of one week and the beginning of another.

Close to 50 students were gathered in Elon’s Numen Lumen Pavilion to celebrate their resilience and their Jewish pride just days after a disturbing shooting incident on Yom Kippur,  the holiest day of the Jewish calendar alarmed Elon’s Jewish community.

“We wanted to show the strength of our community,” said Elon Hillel Co-President Regan Fleischer ‘20, “and create a space for Hillel and Chabad students to come together to support one another.”

Students lead Havdalah ceremony on October 12

The gathering brought together students from across Elon’s campus, along with Assistant Director of Jewish Life Hillary Zaken, Rabbi Mendy Minkowitz of the Chabad Elon Jewish Center and President Emeritus Leo Lambert.

Melissa Horowitz ’20, Elon Hillel co-president, opened the ceremony by invoking the disturbing shooting that occurred outside of the Chabad Jewish Center. She encouraged her peers to be strong, and invited them to speak their truths.

Lev Goldstein ‘23 led the Hebrew-language Havdalah ceremony, which marks the transition from Shabbat to the new week, during which participants recite blessings over grape juice, fragrant spices and a special multi-wicked candle.

Students sat on the floor of the dimly lit McBride Gathering Space, leaning on one another and singing the words of the blessings together as they passed around a container of fragrant cloves to smell and held their hands up to the flickering but robust light of the Havdalah candle.

“We are resilient,” said Chabad President Noah Lakind ’20, “And we will always stand strong. Showing strength and uniting around places of worship no matter what tragic events happened in the past, is the key to a better future.”

“I was scared after the shooting,” said Melissa Denish ‘22, Hillel’s religious life chair, “and it is hard to understand that such hateful acts can happen here, so close to us. But it gives me strength to see our community gathered here tonight, and I know that we are safe here at Elon because of what I see in this room.”

Other students, including Horowitz, Goldstein and Dan Schiff ’21, shared emotional and potent words about their Jewish identities and their responses to the shooting, emphasizing the sense of home and belonging they feel at Elon.

Braided Havdalah candle

“I am incredibly proud of our student leaders for creating this wonderful and warm gathering,” Zaken said. “They knew that the right response to the shooting was unity, and this Havdalah ceremony, infused with a beautiful spirit of Jewish pride, was the perfect way to show how our diverse Jewish community can come together.”

Rabbi Mendy Minkowitz of the Chabad Elon Jewish Center that was targeted in the shooting incident, also expressed his gratitude to the Elon community. “We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. The incredible showing on Friday night of 100+, including Dr. Jon Dooley, vice president for student life, at Chabad really demonstrated how great the Elon community is. Concluding Shabbat with the Havdalah service with Hillel made sure this difficult weekend ended on a high note.”

Goldstein closed the student comments with these words: “I have spent my entire life as a Jew in the South, and I am proud to be a Jew in the south and a part of this Elon community.”