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Memorial service will honor victims of the Mumbai attacks

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Mumbai, the university chaplain’s office is announcing an interfaith “Service of Reflection and Remembrance” at noon Friday, Dec. 5th in Packer Memorial Church.

The service, which will include a candle lighting ceremony, is offered to commemorate those who perished in the attacks, as well as to offer support and condolences to those impacted by the tragedy, according to Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and university chaplain.

The coordinated terrorist attacks over the Thanksgiving holiday in Mumbai (formerly Bombay, India) took place over the course of several days, and ended when Indian security forces regained control of the attack sites. Nearly 200 people were killed as a result of the attacks, and an estimated 300 more were injured, according to various news accounts.

“We had some trouble thinking through the meaning of this event during this busy time of wrapping up a final week of classes and preparing for exams,” says Steffen. “But this was a horrendous and senseless loss of life. We wanted to do something to bring our campus together in solidarity and sympathy.”

The 30-minute service will be led by Steffen and Rabbi Seth Goren, the university’s first full-time director of the Hillel Society, a student-run organization that encourages and strengthens the continuity of Jewish values among the university’s Jewish students.

“Last week's devastating attacks and murders in Mumbai have left so many in shock, horror, sadness and fear,” says Goren. “It is our hope that the service will allow members of the Lehigh community to come together, to support each other and to grieve and reflect. In doing so, we can stand together against the terror that those who perpetrated these crimes would have us feel.”

Also expected to speak is Munisha Mahtani ’09, a marketing major from Westport, Conn., who lost both an aunt and an uncle in the attacks on the Hotel Oberoi. A cousin was critically injured in the same attack.

“I’d like to show the Lehigh community how the three days of attacks affected my life, and to prove that we’re all connected,” says Mahtani. “An attack in India can deeply affect Lehigh in Bethlehem.

In the past, the chaplain’s office has organized special memorial events, such as ceremonies that took place after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and after Hurricane Katrina and the shootings at Virginia Tech.

Although the Mumbai massacre was not specifically an American tragedy, “it was most assuredly a profound human tragedy, and it should concern us all,” Steffen says.

“Having a service on campus is a way of showing support to members of our community personally affected by it, and this is one way—a symbolic way –to come together with those, whether near us or thousands of miles away, to say that our hearts grieve with yours."

Indian Student Association vice president Kush Badshah ’11, a behavioral neuroscience major from Seattle, said he will join fellow members of his organization at the service to “stand united against terrorism,” even though the attacks took place on the opposite side of the world.

“By holding this honorary service, the Lehigh community is portraying that we will not condone such violent terrorist behavior, and that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families as they go through this difficult time,” Badshah says.

Fellow ISA vice president Diraj Karnani ’10, from Apple Valley, Calif., shares Badshah’s sentiments.

“Events like this tend to divide society, and by holding this vigil we hope to remind everyone that peace and unity can and will survive in times of despair,” Karmani says.

The Indian Student Association also organized a candlelight vigil on the front lawn by the University Center at 4:30 p.m.Thursday.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, December 05, 2008

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