By Faygie Levy Holt – Chabad.org
As the daylight faded on Sunday night in Columbia, S.C., hundreds of candles illuminated the darkness, and the words of Tehillim (Psalms), were read aloud as students, community members, friends and family gathered to remember Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old University of South Carolina student who was murdered on Friday.
“Many of you getting ready for a joyous occasion, your graduation, and then this evil, evil tragedy occurs, and Samantha is no longer with us. In what universe does it make sense that we are standing here at this young woman’s vigil?” asked Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Meir Muller, professor of early-childhood education at the university and principal of the Cutler Jewish Day School in Columbia.
Noting that last week’s Torah portion recounted the death of Aaron’s sons and how Moses’ attempt to console his brother were met with Aaron’s silence, Muller noted that “today, in a sense, we are in the same surreal situation.”
There are “no words of consolation, no witty remarks that can make us feel better, no great rabbi’s saying that will soothe the pain,” Muller said, adding, “ … all we have are memories and a call to action.”
A senior at the University of South Carolina, Josephson was a native of New Jersey. She was set to graduate in just a few weeks and was looking forward to starting at Drexel University Law School in Philadelphia in the fall. She had been out with friends in the very early hours of Friday when she got separated from them, called for an Uber to take her home and then got into a car she thought was her ride. Her body was found later that day some 90 miles away. The man accused of abducting and killing her was arrested on Saturday.
Word of Josephson’s passing hit home at Chabad at the University of South Carolina—run by Rabbi Sruly Epstein and his wife, Shlomit—as the emissaries know quite a number of Josephson’s friends and Jewish sorority sisters. Though they said they didn’t know Josephson personally, they do recall her attending a holiday program.
Special Program on Shabbat
Chabad at the University of South Carolina will hold a special Shabbat program in memory of the victim, and once again, candlelight will shine in memory of a young woman whose presence, her friends say, would light up the room.
“When I turned on my phone after Shabbat, I had calls and texts from people at the university about what had happened, and then we started getting calls from her friends, who were very upset,” recalls Rabbi Epstein. “I don’t remember our exact words to them; I know we mostly listened. There really aren’t any words.”
Josephson’s passing was particularly hard for the school community because she was doing something many people do on a regular basis—making use of a ride-share service.
“There’s a sense that the school will unite in this effort to advance the safety of students getting into ride shares,” said Epstein, who recited chapters of Psalms during Sunday’s vigil.
Already, the university’s president, Harris Pastides, has put out a statement urging students to take a pledge never to get into an Uber without checking the license plate and asking the driver, “What’s my name?” (Only the assigned Uber driver would know the name of the person who called for the car.)
Ride-share safety is also the mission that Josephson’s father, Seymour Josephson, is taking upon himself. As he told the students at the vigil, which both he and his wife, Marci, attended: “What we have learned … is that you guys, men and women, have to travel together at night. … Samantha was by herself. She had absolutely no chance, none. The door was locked, the child-safety lock was on.
“She had no chance,” repeated her father. “What I want to do is educate everybody … I don’t want anyone else to ever go through this again.”
Said Epstein, “We are incredibly devastated by this senseless evil, and we would echo message of the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] of responding to senseless violence by bringing more light in this world. That’s why we are dedicating this Shabbat candle-lighting in Samantha’s name in the hopes that it will bring more light in this world, and be one more step toward banishing this kind of darkness and evil. We will always remember Samantha, and she will be in our thoughts and prayers.”