New York University came together tonight in a tragically beautiful Vigil for Japan where a diverse group of students, faculty and community leaders showed their support for those affected by the earthquake that shook Japan and set off a tsunami devastating the country and areas in the Pacific this month.
“You don’t know where to start,” said Kokei Otosi, a freshman in the Liberal Studies Program. “But anything, even just showing support for your fellow man, helps.” Otosi added that she attended the vigil because she felt such support was important.
Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, the Jewish University Chaplain, echoed this sentiment in his opening remarks.
“As the world gets smaller, our family gets bigger,” he said.
Over 150 people gathered on the west side of Gould Plaza, located on W. 4 St. between Mercer St. and Washington Square W., where volunteers passed out candles stuck in paper cups. Supporters huddled close in the 30-degree weather, heads sometimes bowed, as they listened to speakers.
“The world has become very small,” said NYU President John Sexton in his address to the crowd. “But we stand against that smallness and say ‘but we are human, and we love, and we care.'” Sexton continued that love was the only response to Japan’s devastation. “We need to help in order to be human…there’s nothing more to say,” he concluded.
Among the speakers were several students who experienced the earthquake’s effects through their close ties to Japan. Seiko Kano, senior at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, described the confusion and panic as she tried to determine her family’s whereabouts halfway around the world. Though Kano’s family and friends are safe, she expressed sorrow for her home country of Japan. “She took care of me and taught me everything I know,” Kano said.
Rabbi Sarna spearheaded the vigil’s organization along with other spiritual groups at NYU. Despite religious differences, he explained that it made the most sense to support efforts in Japan from a multi-faith perspective. In addition to the rabbi’s own Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, the event was organized by the Center for Spiritual Life, the Islamic Center at NYU, the Protestant Campus Ministry, the Catholic Center at NYU, and the Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service, as well as other students clubs and organizations. Over 30 students worked as volunteers for the vigil, hoping to do anything to help.
Emily Walker, Tisch School of the Arts senior, said she volunteered because she felt the event would provide an emotional outlet for the community. “We need space to hold that intense emotion,” she explained.
Imam Khalid Latif, executive director and Chaplain for the Islamic Center, led the group in a moment of silence. “Use it as an opportunity to hear everything within you,” he said.
Throughout the vigil, the audience lit and re-lit their candles. Starting on the outskirts of the crowd, fire was passed from person to person. When anyone’s candle blew out, several people silently offered to share their light. Rev. Susan Field, Protestant Chaplain, noted the symbolism of the audience’s actions.
“As we share the light, we share our hope,” she said.
Correction: So I was looking at the Washington Square News‘ coverage of this event, and the reporter, who I believe had a recorder, quoted that John Sexton said something slightly different than what I said. Hanqing Chen quoted him as saying: “The world has become very small, but we stand against that smallness and say ‘but we are human, and we love, and we care.'” Since it was very cold and therefore hard to write, I have decided to reflect this difference above. I quoted Sexton originally as saying: “The world has become very small,” said NYU President John Sexton in his address to the crowd. “But we stand against that smallness to say that we love.” Sorry to Sexton and anyone else who was misled by my error.