Brandeis community gathers in aftermath of Saturday’s bus accident
Brandeis religious organizations hosted multiple events for students and other Brandeis community members in the wake of Saturday’s tragic shuttle crash.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s bus accident that devastated the Brandeis community, Jewish student groups and the Center for Spiritual Life hosted gatherings on Sunday and Monday to offer a space for students to come together, process emotions, and support one another.
On Sunday evening, Brandeis Orthodox Minyan held a service, followed by a service by Brandeis Reform Chavurah and Masorti. Hillel made clear in their Instagram post announcing the events that “everyone is welcome” at any of the services and gatherings.
Later that night, following the services, Hillel hosted a gathering at the Berlin Chapel. Around 50 community members came together to sing nigunim, or Jewish meditative melodies. Nigunim are wordless melodies sung in a group setting. There are no lyrics, but instead, repetitive sounds which everyone follows in turn.
Noah Simon ’25 and Zac Gondelman ’26 played guitar and led the group in song at the front of the chapel. Community members in attendance called out requests for nigunim to play. Attendees joined in the harmonies as they picked up on each new melody. Some cried and comforted others as they sang. Several students had their arms around one another. Gondelman said during a break between songs that he’s “so full of love and gratitude” for the Brandeis community.
In an email interview with the Justice on Tuesday, Simon, a t’filah coordinator for Brandeis Reform Chavurah, said the purpose of the gathering was not to say words. Rather, he said, “the goal of the evening was to feel feelings, and that’s what nigunim are best at.”
Simon told the Justice that while Hillel often comes together to sing, it is “never with such raw emotion or such urgency” as during Sunday’s event, which was planned that same afternoon. “I’ve never seen the Hillel community so close, with people of all denominations and levels of involvement present in the same space, feeling part of the whole,” he said.
University President Ron Leibowitz and his family sat in the audience and participated in the nigunim. The University’s Senior Chaplain and Brandeis Hillel’s Executive Director Rabbi Seth Winberg sat beside students as well. The gathering lasted for around an hour.
The Center for Spiritual Life hosted a “Gathering & Reflection” Monday evening in the Harlan Chapel. The event was hosted by Chaplain and Coordinator of Christian Life Karl LaClair, who stressed that all students were welcome, regardless of faith. “This is a space for all of you,” he said.
Many community members attended; people continued to enter the chapel following the start of the event, with attendees overflowing through the doorway and out into the hall. “Tonight, we gather as a community — a community in mourning,” LaClair said.
He acknowledged that the crash may be particularly impactful to students because the Boston/Cambridge shuttle is a “common” and “everyday” part of most students’ lives. He spoke about the fear and uncertainty that follows when “something we rely on day in and day out becomes questionable … [and] feels unsafe.” He told those gathered in the chapel to “find the things that are certain for you in the days ahead,” such as family, friends, and loved ones, adding, “We can rely on things that are certain.”
“All of you are holding, in your own way, a level of fear, a level of frustration, a level of anger. All of those feelings are holy and valid,” he said. “Look around this room and see the care that exists in this community … Continue to be that,” the chaplain urged.
He encouraged attendees to place tea lights on a table and offer their prayers as they lit them. Many people got up to do so, although none spoke theirs aloud.
“There will be other opportunities for coming together after break, with a much larger capacity than tonight,” LaClair told the group, tightly packed into the small chapel. As the event came to an end, attendees slowly started clearing out of the building. Some headed to the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium, where LaClair said community members could continue to gather. Others stayed behind, sitting in the pews or lighting tea lights. Some stood in the chapel and talked, cried with, and hugged one another. LaClair remained in the chapel afterwards to sit with and speak to community members who wished to stay.
The Justice spoke to LaClair immediately following the event. He said he was grateful for how many people attended the gathering. The high turnout, he said, shows that “people are hurting” and are seeking out places “to hurt together.”
During the event, LaClair also referred to local news organizations’ reporting and interactions with the Brandeis community. At the start of his speech, he noted that some outside media coverage had incorrectly portrayed the nature of this gathering. A Boston Globe article published Monday evening in remembrance of Vanessa Mark, the student who died in the shuttle accident, described the event held Monday night as a “vigil.” However, all of these events on Sunday and Monday were clearly advertised by Hillel and the Center for Spiritual Life as gathering spaces to support students reeling from this event, rather than a formal remembrance for Vanessa.
As LaClair concluded the event, he encouraged attendees to leave in a certain direction to avoid off-campus news outlets waiting outside the chapel. He said that the reporters from various news organizations had been instructed not to approach students with questions. At least one member of a television news crew was observed asking to speak with students as they walked toward the chapel for the event.