Moments before they were scheduled to start singing at an impromptu memorial vigil outside the Jewish Museum of Belgium, the 13 members of Yale University’s Jewish a cappella group were still unsure what number to perform.
Fresh off the train from Paris, Magevet’s men and women had not initially planned to perform anywhere near the museum during their biennial international tour in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
But they decided to show up after hearing on Saturday that an unidentified shooter had killed four people at the Jewish museum in central Brussels.
The following day, they were already standing at the solemn vigil that the Jewish community of Brussels had hastily organized. And while they were full of emotions, they still had no proper set for that performance before the 2,000 people who showed up.
“It was not even clear whether it would be possible for us to sing at all,” recalled Yale sophomore Joshua Fitt, 18.
But as it turned out, Magevet’s members needn’t have worried.
“At a certain point, people from the vigil spontaneously started singing Hatikva,” Fitt said in reference to the Israeli national anthem. “So we joined the singing and took it from there.”
Magevet — whose founders 21 years ago named it after the Hebrew word for “towel” as a tribute to their love of saunas — followed up with “Yerushalaim Shel Zahav” and other Israeli semi-official anthems “that all Jews share,” Fitt said.
Fitt still gets overcome with emotion when he describes what he saw at the gathering, where many Jewish parents came with their children despite the fact that police are still searching for the shooter and at least one other accomplice – both of whom have shown considerable determination in their effort to kill Jews.
“The fact that 2,000 convened there in the current situation exemplifies the Jewish response to such acts, which is unity,” said Fitt. After the show, Belgian Jews approached him to thank him and his group for their performance, he recalled. “He told me, ‘when some Jews hurts, all Jews hurt.’ And that captured what we were feeling.”
Though the performance at the vigil was unplanned, Magevet did have a concert scheduled in Brussels on Sunday, at the city’s Jewish Community Center. But following the attack, the center – which does not list its address online for security reasons — changed the venue. The concert was held before the vigil for 60 people at the home of a member of the local Jewish community.
“We began with a minute’s silence but we followed with our set, including some Israeli pop songs,” Fitt said. “We did it for the same reason we decided to keep our performances in Brussels despite the tragedy, To uplift the community’s spirits and to not to allow the people who perpetrated the killings to achieve their goal of disrupting Jewish life.”