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May 4th, 2010
10:21 AM ET

Jewish mourner's prayer used in Kent State memorials

Today marks 40 years since Kent State University in Ohio became a symbol in America of the anti-war movement.

On this day in 1970, as unarmed students - many already angered by the ongoing war in Vietnam - protested the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire, killing four and wounding nine others. Those killed and wounded included both protesters and bystanders.

What many may not know is that three of the four students who died happened to be Jewish. This coincidental fact is all the more surprising given that Jews have traditionally made up no more than 5 percent of the student body at the university, according to Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of Hillel at Kent State, a campus organization dedicated to promoting Jewish life.

Those killed included Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer - all Jewish - and William Schroeder.

The Forward, a Jewish weekly magazine, spoke with Alan Canfora, an alumnus who directs the Kent May 4 Center. He clarified that there is no reason to believe the students were targeted because of their faith.

“There were about 500 protesters there, and another 1,500 bystanders,” he recalled. That three were Jewish, he told The Forward, was “just an extremely unlikely mathematical probability.”

In gathering materials for the center he runs, Canfora said he came across certificates showing that hundreds of trees had been planted in Israel to honor the three Jewish victims.

The first marker put on campus to remember all four killed was created by Hillel in 1971. It was stolen, returned riddled with bullets and rededicated in 1975, Chestnut said. The desecration was never assumed to have had anything to do with religion and was more a statement against anti-war protesters, she said.

It is customary for Jews to leave stones on gravesites. The marker at Kent State to remember the dead is covered in rocks, and memorial candles appear in front of it.

When the community gathers to mark the anniversary of the massacre, as it did last night with a walk and candlelight vigil, the Kaddish, or Hebrew prayer for the dead, is recited. (In the top photo, Becky Meiser and Samantha Zucker hold candles at last night's vigil.)

Finding ways to tie current students to the victims of 40 years ago helps them make a connection to history, Chestnut said.

“It’s difficult for students to plug into and really understand what happened. Being able to relate to the four students that died gives them a way to connect,” she said. “Unfortunately, in today’s world, shootings on campus are not unique anymore. It can be difficult to understand the significance. This wasn’t a person who was mentally ill; this was the government.”

Faith Barnett, a Kent State alum, holds a flashlight as Ben Spott, class of 2010, leads those gathered for last night's candlelight vigil in the reciting of the mourner's Kaddish.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Judaism • Politics

soundoff (One Response)
  1. jewishnashville

    2012-1970 = 42
    I was a student during the 40th anniversary.
    Thanks!

    May 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.