As Yom HaShoah — also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day — approached this year, the University of Lynchburg’s interfaith chaplain, Jer Bryant ’03, ’10 MA, wondered what could be done to help the local Jewish community commemorate the approximately six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during WWII.
The Jewish community, which meets locally at Agudath Sholom Congregation, had recently lost its spiritual leader, Rabbi John Nimon. Nimon died unexpectedly on Feb. 27. At the time, the University’s Jewish student group, Hillel, had just two members, so Bryant reached out to The Buddhist Community, one of several spiritual life groups he advises on campus.
He asked the Buddhist students if they’d be willing to help Hillel organize a Yom HaShoah service. Their answer: “Absolutely!”
“It made me teary that another spiritual life group wanted to support the Jewish students on campus,” Bryant said. “I thought, ‘That’s so beautiful, because that’s what we try to do here.’”
The interfaith Yom HaShoah service — Lynchburg’s first — was held Thursday evening, April 28, in the University’s Snidow Chapel. Members of Agudath Sholom Congregation were invited and the event included prayers and scripture readings from both the Jewish and Buddhist traditions.
“I love when people from other cultures and ways of life become involved in my own culture and want to learn about it, as well as express their own cultural traditions,” Julia Rod ’24, one of Hillel’s student leaders, said prior to the service.
“As for the number of students in Hillel at the University of Lynchburg, we are small but mighty. There are only two official members in Lynchburg Hillel — myself and our other student leader, Margo Lamson ’25 — but I always try to get the word out that we exist on campus for students who may not know about the organization.”
Claire King ’23 leads The Buddhist Community, which has six members on campus. “My religion helps me to see everyone, both in their joy and suffering, as worthy of opportunity and acceptance,” she said.
She added that the collaboration with Hillel “speaks to the growth of the University of Lynchburg in championing both the power and bonds that are formed when students of all backgrounds work toward the welfare of one another.”
Bryant agreed. “The way we take care of our Jewish students and celebrate them is important,” he said. “It just shows the way our spiritual life groups support one another and that we value diversity of thought and worship.”