About 300 students gathered on Cross Campus Saturday for a candlelit vigil commemorating the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks while about 30 students unhappy with that event’s ideology attended an alternative vigil on Old Campus.
The larger memorial was co-sponsored by the Chaplain’s office and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating terrorism. Some students, who characterized the group as “pro-war,” objected to their sponsorship of the vigil.
The Yale Peace Coalition held a vigil on Old Campus at the same time as the Cross Campus vigil.
“This vigil is established as an alternative to the vigil sponsored by the Yale Chaplain’s office and the pro-war group Foundation for the Defense of Democracies,” the Coalition said in an e-mail to the student body.
This is the second year the group has held a vigil separate from the one coordinated by the Chaplain’s office.
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ board of directors and distinguished advisors includes prominent conservatives such as former CIA Director R. James Woolsey; Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The group’s Web site lists core beliefs including: “In the wake of [Sept. 11, 2001,] the United States should lead a decisive war against terrorism.”
Michelle Rosenthal ’05 and Patrick McGill ’06, who coordinated the Cross Campus vigil, went to Israel this summer as fellows of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The program, which sent 35 American students to Israel for two weeks this summer to study terrorism and its impact, asks that each of the fellows act as an ambassador to his or her respective school.
Fellows must hold five events throughout the year to educate their schools about dealing with terrorism. McGill and Rosenthal approached the Chaplain’s Office about co-sponsoring the event.
Jared Malsin ’07, who helped to coordinate the Old Campus vigil, declined to comment on the Foundation.
“It’s important not to politicize [the Sept. 11 attacks] and not to make a political issue out of it,” Malsin said.
McGill said that he and Rosenthal tried to make the Cross Campus vigil as non-partisan as possible.
“The whole idea is to remember people who were lost, and reflect on what we’ve been through, as a people and a country,” said McGill. “Everyone can come and feel comfortable.”
The ceremony included a speech by New York resident Russell Eida ’05, a performance by the Whiffenpoofs, and readings from Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts.
Some members of the audience said they were impressed with the ceremony and did not mention any clear political motive.
“It was really well done. I liked the inclusion of Jewish and Muslim texts along with a Christian reading,” Lindsay Starck ’08 said.
She added that she thought the most powerful moment of the event was the lighting of candles.
Streets said the event offered students a new perspective on the attacks.
“What was different is that we had a student reflecting on how this has impacted him, and in some ways, it may be part of everybody’s story,” Streets said. “The Class of ’05 will be the first graduating class whose total college career was shaped by [Sept. 11, 2001].”
Eida, who lived only blocks away from the World Trade Center, delivered the keynote speech on Cross Campus. Though he was on campus at the time of the attacks, he said the shock was still great.
“As I saw the trade centers falling, I realized the world was changing around me,” Eida said in his speech. “We inherited this new reality.”
Even though three years have passed since the attacks, Streets said in his speech that Americans are still unsure about what the event means for people today.
“We do not know how we may change over time as the result of the indescribable terror,” he said. “It has made an aching void that will last our lifetime.”
For all the intense debate about how to remember the attacks, Eida closed his speech with a simple message: people need to listen.
“Not only do we have to listen to those who are screaming at the tops of the towers,” Eida said. “But we have to also listen to the smallest voices that are whispering, to understand where it is we came from and where we are going.”