Santa Barbara Hillel supports students in wake of shootings

Approximately 40 UC Santa Barbara students sought comfort and grief counseling at the Santa Barbara Hillel on May 24,  the day after Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six students and injured 13 more. Rodger also died during his Friday night murderous spree of  “revenge” in Isla Vista, a community where students live adjacent to the university.

Rabbi Evan Goodman, the Edgar M. Bronfman executive director of the UC Santa Barbara Hillel, said the students came to discuss the tragic events. Rodger, who was not a student at UCSB, began his killing spree in his own apartment, stabbing three students to death. He followed this by shooting two women outside a sorority house and a third victim, a man, was at a deli in Santa Barbara. Rodger also wounded others by running people over in his car and shooting randomly from his car window while driving.

[Invocation by Rabbi Evan Goodman at UCSB memorial]

Rodger exchanged gunfire with police, but his death may have been a suicide. None of his victims are known to be Jewish.

Speaking to the Journal by phone on Tuesday, Goodman said students with varying degrees of connection to the incident came to Hillel on Saturday.

Among them was a female student who said she had aided a friend Rodger had shot in the leg, Goodman said.

“Our students are infinitely intertwined with the entire university community; we’re not an island… and so it’s important for us to be there to remember the victims …and to support the survivors in the rest of the community,” Goodman said of why Hillel immediately became a grief counseling center in the aftermath of the attack.

Goodman spoke to the Journal a few hours prior to a UCSB campus wide memorial service on Tuesday, May 27.

A student signs a remembrance wall in the Isla Vista neighborhood of Santa Barbara, Calif., on May 27. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The Hillel’s Isla Vista location is “only about a block away” from where part of the shooting happened, Goodman said. So he quickly reached out to university officials and spoke with other religious leaders on campus, offering Hillel as a place to come for all students – not just Jewish ones — needing assistance in the wake of the traumatic episode.

“I was in touch with the university officials as the events unfolded late, late Friday night and Saturday morning, and in conversation I offered that, because we are located right in the heart of Isla Vista, right by the university, that we would be happy to open our doors to provide help,” the rabbi said.

In the wake of the rampage, various events have been taking place in southern California commemorating the losses. On Monday night, Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks held a vigil. Veronika Weiss, one of two victims from the Los Angeles area, was a graduate of the high school.

Goodman said his remarks at the UCSB memorial service would center on the healing process and moving forward.

“I want to focus on the idea that we while we may ask why this happened — and those are important questions to ask — the most important thing to do now is look at how we can move forward from this, how we can support one another, and in the Jewish sense, bring a little bit more light into the world despite this.  That we’re defined not as victims, but how we react to and address the challenges and even the tragedies that come our way,” Goodman said.

Goodman was just one of a group of religious leaders of various faiths participating in the campus memorial, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday and held at the campus’ Harder Stadium.

UCSB’s regular classes were cancelled for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, students needing support could meet with various faculty members, according to a message from the school’s chancellor, Henry T. Yang and interim executive vice chancellor, Joel Michaelsen.

Events to support the students and memorialize the dead will continue in the coming days. On Friday, May 30, Hillel will hold a Shabbat dinner with a memorial service. The entire UCSB community is invited, Goodman said.

The days following the tragedy in Isla Vista: 

UC Santa Barbara students attend a candlelight vigil on May 24. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Memorial flowers placed in bullet holes in the window of a deli that was one of nine crime scenes of the Isla Vista shooting. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial for 20-year-old UCSB student Christopher Michael-Martinez. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

UCSB students, from left: Lisa Kitson, 20, Jason Dahn, 20, Ariana Richmond, 20, and Melissa Barthelemy, 36, march between drive-by shooting crime scenes in a protest against sexual violence and hate crimes. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

UCSB student Jorge Anaya, 20, stands outside the 7-11 where he saved a student who was shot, by helping carry her into the store. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

UCSB students from various sororities hug outside a sorority house where two women were killed. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters