Members of the Brandeis community took part in two vigils last week to commemorate the 17 victims of the recent terrorist attack in Paris and the victims of recent terrorist attacks in Nigeria.

On Jan. 7, two brothers believed to be associated with the Al Qaeda branch in Yemen opened fire on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris before escaping and prompting a manhunt. After another gunman took several hostages in a Kosher supermarket in Eastern Paris, all three terrorists were tracked down and killed. They killed at total of 17 people in the attacks, including Charlie Hebdo employees, policemen and four hostages. 

The vigil was organized by Chama Mechtaly ’16 and followed a rally in Paris on Jan. 11, in which over 40 world leaders and millions of people marched in memory of the victims. It also mirrored the recent vigils held in cities around the world, including Boston.

Students gathered at the University’s Peace Circle at the start of the vigil, holding pictures of the victims and signs that read “Je Suis Charlie,” a popular slogan that arose after the attacks, signaling support for the victims and for free speech. Many of the students who attended the vigil were students from France, and others either had family in France or had studied abroad in Paris. Dean of Students Jamele Adams and Rabbi Elyse Winick were in attendance as well. 

Adams said that this event was extremely important for “healing” because “something that hurts people across the world hurts us here.” Rabbi Winick said that “love is the only chance we have to change the world.”


Students at the vigil lit 17 candles by Chapel’s Pond to commemorate the 17 victims of the Paris attacks.

Imam Talal Eid’s son was also present at the vigil in place of his father. He said that “with every act of terror, there are acts of good. We are resilient…we will continue to fight.”

After gathering together at the circle, students marched towards Chapel’s Field, where they congregated outside the pond to light 17 candles in honor of the victims.  

In an interview with the Justice, Mechtaly said that she organized the vigil not only because the attack was an important and tragic event but because it was very personal for her. “I felt like there was the need to do something like this on campus because we have French students and people who are directly affected by what happened,” Mechtaly said. 

As a student from Morocco who grew up speaking both French and Arabic, the tragedy also felt close to home for her. “The whole thing hit very hard because it’s an attack on North Africans, Jews, Muslims and humanity in general. It’s against everything I believe in,” Mechtaly said. She identifies as North African, and has “been working on bringing Jews and Muslims from North Africa together,” she said. 

On Friday, Mechtaly also helped organize a second vigil, this time for the victims of the Boko Haram attack in Nigeria. The vigil took place just after noon at the Peace Circle, at the same time and place as the weekly Peace Vigils sponsored by the Chaplaincy. Again, Adams was in attendance, and the University’s Protestant Chaplain Rev. Matt Carriker helped lead the vigil, which drew about a dozen students. 

The vigil began with a moment of silence—a time for each person to say a prayer in their own tradition, Carriker told the group. Mechtaly handed out signs, some reading “#AfricanLivesMatter” and “Shame on You Boko Haram,” which the group held as they then went around the circle and introduced themselves, sharing why they were affected by the attacks in Nigeria. Carriker, Adams and Mechtaly each spoke to the group for a bit, and then they ended the vigil by singing “Peace, Salam, Shalom” together. 

When asked why she organized the Nigeria vigil, Mechtaly noted that it’s disappointing to see that the media isn’t covering the Boko Haram attack as thoroughly as the Paris attacks. “It perpetuates the message that African lives don’t matter and that black lives don’t matter…but all lives matter. We should be sending out that message more and more in times like this,” she said.

Mechtaly says that she hopes members of the Brandeis community can recognize the help and support around them when such terrible incidents occur. “I want to get people together to…know that this is a community and people care about each other,” she said. “We don’t want people suffering.” 

—Rachel Hughes contributed reporting.